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.
Weak observance of preventive measures, increased population movement and interaction as well 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% 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% in cases. South Africa is reporting a sustained increase in cases, while Uganda saw a 131% 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 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,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa. “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.”
Altogether, 48.6 million doses have been received and 31.4 million doses have been administered in 50 countries in Africa, where around 2% of the population have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while globally 24% 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% of deaths.
SOURCE: WHO, UN