WHO warns of increasing coronavirus deaths in Africa

A medical worker talks to volunteers as they wait to receive an injection during human clinical trial for a potential vaccine against the novel coronavirus in Soweto, South Africa.[Reuters]

More than 6,400 coronavirus deaths have been recorded in Africa this week, marking the highest death toll, World Health Organisation (WHO) reports.

The fatalities mark a two per cent rise compared with the previous week, with South Africa and Tunisia accounting for over 55 per cent of the deaths.

Officials at the WHO have expressed fears that death trends are on the rise in 15 countries and 12 have reported higher case fatality rates than the African average of 2.5 per cent over the last one month.

The new WHO data shows the highest seven-day death toll since the onset of the pandemic in Africa.

Data from WHO shows more than 172 000 deaths have been reported in Africa. The continent accounts for over 4 per cent of the 4.2 million Covid-19 related deaths recorded globally to date. 

Speaking during a virtual press conference, the New Vaccines Introduction Officer at WHO Regional Office for Africa Dr Phionah Atuhebwe observed that latest data indicates Africa is still on the crest of the third wave.

“It’s a sad day for Africa. Our hearts go out to everyone who has lost friends and loved ones. Deaths have peaked week-on-week on the continent and after a slight dip, Covid-19 cases are surging again. We cannot take anything for granted,” Atuhebwe said.

According to WHO, in the week ending August 1, Covid-19 cases rose by 19 per cent to over 278,000. South Africa accounted for 29 per cent of the cases, which remain close to Africa’s record high of 286,000 weekly cases recorded in early July.

WHO reports that 22 African countries have seen cases rise by over 20 per cent for at least two weeks running, while the highly transmissible Delta variant has been found in 29 African countries. The Alpha variant has been detected in 39 countries and Beta variant in 35. 

This is despite Covid-19 vaccine shipments to Africa in July as nearly 12 million doses were shipped through COVAX facility, more than the doses received in April, May and June combined.

Africa has received 91 million Covid-19 vaccine doses so far. About 24 million people, just 1.7 perc ent of Africa's population, are fully vaccinated.

According to WHO, the continent needs up to 183 million more doses to fully vaccinate 10 per cent of its population by the end of September, and up to 729 million more doses to meet the end of year goal of fully vaccinating 30 per cent of Africa’s population.

COVAX aims to deliver 520 million doses to Africa by the end of 2021. Almost 90 million of these doses have now been allocated to African countries and will be delivered by the end of September.

Further, the African Union plans to deliver at least 16 million of the 400 million Johnson & Johnson doses it has sourced for African countries by the end of September.

“After a tough three months, we’re seeing more positive prospects in terms of vaccine shipments to Africa. Unsteady supplies are the main reason Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout has been slow, so as shipments ramp up it is crucial that African countries put comprehensive vaccination strategies in place to swiftly and efficiently protect the most vulnerable,” said Dr Atuhebwe.

Dr Atuhebwe said WHO is at the forefront of Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout, ??working to coordinate all efforts, giving policy and technical guidance and tailored support to African countries and helping share knowledge and best practices between African countries.

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