Deaths from COVID-19 across Africa have increased by 40 per cent in the last 28 days compared to the previous 28 days, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
The WHO Regional Office for Africa also said Thursday that over 3.7 million COVID-19 cases have been reported on the continent in the past one year.
Egypt confirmed its index case of the deadly COVID-19 virus on February 14, 2020, making it the first country to record a case in the Africa region.
The Regional Director of the WHO, Matshidiso Moeti, while speaking at a press briefing marking one year of COVID-19 in Africa, said countries in the continent have risen to the challenge of the pandemic but at huge cost to national economies, livelihoods and development.
“In the first year of this pandemic in Africa, more than 3.7 million cases have been reported. In the coming week the continent is projected to pass a devastating marker of 100,000 lives sadly lost to this virus,” Ms Moeti said.
As of the time of reporting, the global coronavirus cases stood at 108 million and over two million deaths recorded globally. In the Africa region alone, 3,730,762 cases of the infection have been reported and almost 100,000 deaths.
“The increasing deaths from COVID-19 are warnings that health workers and health systems in many countries are dangerously overstressed,” she said.
Despite different projections that COVID-19 will cause havoc in Africa, the continent has fared better when compared to other parts of the world.
An earlier report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) predicted up to 3.3 million deaths and 1.2 billion infections in Africa if no interventions were put in place.
The report added that even with “intense social distancing” under the best-case scenario, the continent could see more than 122 million infections.
Because Africa has widespread health problems, it makes people of the continent “particularly susceptible” to the virus; also, “of all the continents, Africa has the highest prevalence of certain underlying conditions like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS,” the UN report said.
Barely one year after this projections, the continent only accounts for 3.5 per cent of global COVID-19 cases and 4 per cent of global deaths, according to the WHO.
While the African region is faring better compared to other regions, the pandemic has caused a harrowing economic impact which has triggered the continent’s first recession in 25 years, according to the World Bank.
“In sub-Saharan Africa last year, the GDP fell by 2.6 per cent and the IMF predicts that Africa will be the slowest growing large region in 2021,” Ms Moeti said.
“The sociology economic impact of this pandemic will have ongoing repercussions for several years in African countries.”
About 20 million jobs are at risk in Africa due to the impact of the contagion, according to an African Union (AU) study.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest oil producers, Nigeria and Angola, alone could lose $65 billion in income, the report shows.
According to Ms Moeti, the one-year milestone comes as the continent faces the spread of new strains of the COVID-19 virus amidst the second wave of the pandemic.
She noted that the Variant B.1.351, which was first detected in South Africa, has been detected in eight other African countries.
South Africa’s health minister said the new variant is currently accounting for more than 90 per cent of coronavirus cases in the country.
Ms Moeti stated that the Variant B117 causing panic in the United Kingdom and some other parts of the world has been detected in six African countries, including Nigeria.
“The first wave of the pandemic was contained relatively effectively with rapidly scaled up public health capacities, social measures like border closures and stay at home orders at huge cost,” she said.
Vaccines roll out
To contain the rapid spread of the new variants and manage the second wave of the pandemic, countries around the globe have begun the rollout of some approved COVID-19 vaccines.
Countries including Cabo Verde, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia have been allocated 320,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine through COVAX, a co-financing public-private facility.
Most African countries are banking on benefitting from the COVAX programme, which was set up to divide over a billion doses of vaccines across 92 low-and middle-income countries.
Nigeria is expecting to receive 16 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines before the end of February through this facility, authorities said.
“Nearly 90 million of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine could start arriving on the continent later this month. This is subject to the WHO listing the vaccine for emergency use,” Ms Moeti had said at a briefing.
South Africa, the most adversely impacted by the coronavirus in Africa with nearly 1.5 million infections and over 47,000 deaths, was on the verge of a massive vaccine rollout plan having received over a million doses of the Astrazeneca vaccine.
But the country’s government said it has suspended the rollout of the jabs for failing to protect clinical trial volunteers from mild or moderate illness.
Authorities said preliminary investigations showed the vaccines did not protect volunteers from the more contagious B.1.351 variant.
“While a vaccine that protects against all forms of COVID-19 illness is our biggest hope, preventing severe cases & hospitalizations which overwhelm hospitals is crucial,” Ms Moeti said.
“So, my message is, go out and get vaccinated when a vaccine becomes available in your country. Ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and sustaining the public health measures are the critical priorities to overcome this crisis.”
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