HomeHealthThreat of COVID-19 third wave in Africa is rising, WHO warns

Threat of COVID-19 third wave in Africa is rising, WHO warns

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Lara Adejoro

The World Health Organisation says the threat of a third wave of COVID-19 in Africa is real and rising. 

WHO Regional Office for Africa said this in a statement issued from its headquarters in Brazzaville, Congo on Thursday.

According to the statement, WHO said as the risk of a surge in COVID-19 cases increases, African countries must urgently boost critical care capacity to prevent health facilities from being overwhelmed. 

This comes as vaccine shipments to the continent grind to a near halt. 

The UN agency noted that the weak observance of preventive measures, increased population movement and interaction, as well as the arrival of winter in southern Africa, have heightened the risk of COVID-19 resurgence in many countries.

“In the last two weeks, Africa recorded a 20 percent increase in cases compared with the previous fortnight. 

“The pandemic is trending upwards in 14 countries and in the past week alone, eight countries witnessed an abrupt rise of over 30 percent in cases. South Africa is reporting a sustained increase in cases, while Uganda saw a 131 percent week-on-week rise last week, with infection clusters in schools, rising cases among health workers and isolation centres, and intensive care units filling up. Angola and Namibia are also experiencing a resurgence in cases. 

“The increase comes as COVID-19 vaccine shipments continue to slow down. Burkina Faso this week received just 115 000 doses from the COVAX Facility, while Rwanda and Togo each received around 100,000 Pfizer vaccine doses. 

“Nearly 20 African countries have used up more than two-thirds of their doses. The COVAX Facility is in talks with several manufacturers, as well as with countries which have vaccinated their high-risk groups to share doses,” the statement read in part.

Speaking during a virtual press conference facilitated by the APO Group – a Pan-African Communications Consultancy, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said the threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising. 

“Our priority is clear – it’s crucial that we swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of COVID-19. 

“While many countries outside Africa have now vaccinated their high-priority groups and are able to even consider vaccinating their children, African countries are unable to even follow up with second doses for high-risk groups. I’m urging countries that have reached a significant vaccination coverage to release doses and keep the most vulnerable Africans out of critical care,” Moeti said.

According to the agency, 48.6 million doses have been received and 31.4 million doses have been administered in 50 countries in Africa, where around 2 percent of the population have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while globally 24 percent have been vaccinated.

“As the continent struggles with vaccine shortages, the care of critically-ill COVID-19 patients is also lagging behind other parts of the world. While Africa has 2.9% of cases globally, it accounts for 3.7 percent of deaths.

“A WHO survey carried out in May found that in many African countries, crucial equipment and the health workforce required to handle severely-ill COVID-19 patients fall far short of needs. 

“Of the 23 countries responding to the survey, most have fewer than one intensive care unit bed per 100,000 population and will require an increase of between 2500 percent and 3000 percent to meet needs during a surge. Among the countries providing information on ventilators, only a third of their intensive care unit beds are equipped with mechanical ventilators.

“High-income countries such as Germany, Luxemburg or the United States of America that have been able to cope with COVID-19 surges have over 25 beds per 100,000 population,” the agency said.

Adding, Moeti said “Many African hospitals and clinics are still far from ready to cope with a huge rise in critically ill patients. We must better equip our hospitals and medical staff to avert the worst effects of a runaway surge. 

“Treatment is the last line of defence against this virus and we cannot let it be breached.”

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