By Sola Ogundipe
As COVID-19 case numbers in Africa climb faster than all earlier peaks, the World Health Organisation, WHO, has said that new and faster spreading variants are fuelling the continent’s surging third wave.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said on Thursday, that the Delta variant is in three of the five African countries reporting the highest caseloads for the week ending 27 June, and it is dominant in South Africa, which accounted for more than half of Africa’s cases in the same period.
Speaking during a virtual press conference, Moeti said with case numbers doubling every three weeks, the Delta variant had spread to 16 African countries, including nine with surging cases.
“The Alpha and Beta variants have been reported in 32 and 27 countries respectively. The Alpha variant has been detected in most countries in north, west and central Africa. The Beta variant is more widespread in southern Africa. Both of these variants are more transmissible than the original virus.
“The speed and scale of Africa’s third wave is like nothing we’ve seen before. The rampant spread of more contagious variants pushes the threat to Africa up to a whole new level.
“More transmission means more serious illness and more deaths, so everyone must act now and boost prevention measures to stop an emergency becoming a tragedy,” Moeti remarked.
Quoting WHO data, Moeti said the number of COVID-19 cases have increased in Africa for six weeks running and rose by 25 percent week-on-week to almost 202,000 in the week ending on June 27th, reaching nine tenths of the continent’s previous record of 224,000 new cases, even as the number of deaths rose by 15 percent across 38 African countries to nearly 3,000 in the same period.
With rising case numbers and hospitalisations across the continent, she said WHO estimates that oxygen demand in Africa is now 50 percent greater than for the first wave peak one year ago.
“While supply challenges grind on, dose sharing can help plug the gap. We are grateful for the pledges made by our international partners, but we need urgent action on allocations. Africa must not be left languishing in the throes of its worst wave yet,” Moeti avowed.
As WHO is supporting genomic surveillance to track the spread of variants in Africa with the aim of boosting sampling for sequencing, Moeti said that better understanding of the molecular evolution of the variants will also aid countries in making quick decisions around which vaccines to use.
This week, African Immunization experts met to tackle a range of pressing issues, including COVID-19 vaccines, the status of the malaria vaccine implementation programme, polio eradication and routine immunisation progress, at the biannual Regional Immunization Technical Advisory Group (RITAG).
They also addressed the implementation of the regional framework for Immunization Agenda 2030, a roadmap to achieve crucial immunization goals, and offered recommendations to African governments to address key challenges and strengthen immunisation systems.