Africa now going through its worst pandemic peak; variants set in

Wednesday July 14 2021
Police officers on patrol

Police officers on patrol to enforce Covid-19 second lockdown restrictions in Kampala, Uganda. PHOTO | AFP


Africa marked its worst Covid-19 pandemic week since its onset a year ago, surpassing the second wave peak at the beginning of this year. World Health Organisation Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said that the past week has seen a 43 percent jump in mortality, 5,197 new deaths recorded.

Dr Moeti said during the WHO-Africa weekly Covid-19 briefing on Thursday that there had been “more than 20 percent increase from the previous week, and a 12 percent jump over the January (second wave) peak.”

During the week ending July 4, according to Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), 254,000 cases were reported on the continent, representing a 22 percent increase compared with the last week of June.

South Africa, Tunisia, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe reported the highest numbers of new infections.

What is concerning health experts, however, is that continent continues to struggle to access vaccines and the numbers of those fully vaccinated have stagnated at just over one percent.

Dr Moeti said that discussions had begun around long-term, periodic booster shots, as the unfolding vaccination crisis is expected to lead to endemicity of the virus on the continent.


“There are discussions going on that we might have to eventually accept a situation where this virus is endemic and we’ll keep giving boosters as has happened somewhat with the influenza vaccine. But I think at the moment we're working hard to hit the virus as hard as possible in as many countries as possible, and minimise its continuing circulation,” she hinted.

Immunisation and vaccine development programme coordinator at WHO’s Regional Office for Africa Dr Richard Mihigo reiterated Dr Moeti’s position.

“There is a possibility that in future we may be needing some booster doses to make sure that people sustain some level of protection for a long period of time,” he said.

Infections have risen for seven consecutive weeks since the onset of the third wave on May 3.

There have been almost 5.7 million positive cases on the continent and about 146,000 people have died.

“And the worst is yet to come,” warned Dr Moeti, “as the fast moving third wave continues to gain speed and new ground in countries.”

“Cases are doubling now every 18 days, compared with 21 days a week ago. At least 16 African countries are now in resurgence, with Malawi and Senegal joining in this category this week,” she noted.

New strains

The deadly Delta variant (from India) has been detected in 10 countries, even as the continent continues to struggle with collecting the information — especially genomic surveillance — needed in identification of which variants are circulating in communities, which would have immeasurable value to national response teams to inform adjustments to public health and social measures.

The UK announced this week that it will support Kenya on genomic sequencing to help effectively identify, assess and track new SARS-CoV-2 variants among the population as part of tie-up between Kenya Medical Research Institute and Public Health England in the fight against the virus.

As far as vaccines go, the WHO said that after almost grinding to a halt in May and early June, vaccine deliveries from the Covax Facility are gathering momentum.

In the past two weeks, more than 1.6 million doses have been delivered to Africa through Covax, and more than 20 million Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses are expected to arrive from the US through Covax, in co-ordination with the AU.

A fluid situation with India’s supply of vaccines has been salvaged by alternating donations, with the US, Japan, France, Norway and Sweden pledging supplies to Africa. According to Covax 500 million doses are expected in donations.

The WHO said 11 countries have used up all their supplies and are being prioritised to receive some of upcoming donations.

“We expect more than 20 million doses of Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson to arrive from the United States soon, through Covax, in coordination with the African Union,” she said, observing, however, that there is still a long way to go given that only 50 million doses have been administered in Africa accounting for just 1.6 percent of doses globally. Only 16 million — 1.19 percent — Africans are now fully vaccinated.

Director of the Africa CDC Dr John Nkengasong said that the biggest challenge besides the lack of vaccines is failure by countries to get the vaccines to the populace.