Africa is experiencing its fastest surge in COVID-19 cases this year, with the number up 83% in the past week, although deaths remain lower than previous surges, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
In the statement, the health organization said that the spike in cases was driven by the Delta and Omicron variants. The number of new COVID-19 cases on the continent is currently doubling every five days, the shortest time frame reported this year.
Africa recorded more than 196,000 new cases for the week ending on 12 December, up from around 107,000 in the previous week and deaths dropped by 19% in the same period, it said, and have averaged about 1,000 per week in the fourth pandemic wave.
What are they saying
Low inoculation rates have encouraged viral mutations like the new Omicron variant to spread, health experts have said, as the continent struggled to obtain vaccine doses until recently, and is facing challenges with distribution due to lack of funds, staff and equipment.
“We are cautiously optimistic that deaths and severe illness will remain low in the current wave, but slow vaccine roll-out in Africa means both will be much higher than they should be,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
At the current pace, the WHO says it will take until May 2022 before Africa reaches 40% vaccination coverage and August 2024 before it reaches 70%.
“In a world where Africa had the doses and support to vaccinate 70% of its population by the end of 2021—a level many wealthy countries have achieved—we probably would be seeing tens of thousands of fewer deaths from COVID-19 next year,” Dr Moeti said. “But we can still save many lives if we can accelerate the pace of vaccination in early 2022.”
WHO is supporting efforts in African countries to complete district “micro plans”, which identify hard-to-reach populations and outline vaccine delivery strategies to reach them.
The organization’s 2022 COVID-19 strategy for Africa, according to the statement, includes a strong focus on surveillance aimed at increasing case detection, strengthening genomic surveillance to track new variants of concern as well as country capacity for appropriate case management including home-based isolation and care, and guarding against COVID-19 with key preventive measures amidst reduced risk perception.