The World Health Organization has warned that COVID-19 is gaining ground in Africa, with the death toll jumping 43% in the past week. WHO says the continent recorded 1 million new cases in just one month, with several countries facing shortages of oxygen and beds for patients.
Speaking during a virtual press briefing Thursday, Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director, said Africa is recording its highest number of COVID-19 cases since the virus hit the continent in early 2020.
"Over the past month, Africa recorded an additional 1 million cases," Moeti said. "This is the shortest time it has taken so far to add one1 million cases. Comparatively, it took around three months to move from 4 million to 5 million cases. This COVID-19 resurgence is the fastest the continent has seen.”
The global health agency says 12 African countries are experiencing an upward trend of coronavirus, including Algeria, Malawi, Senegal and Zimbabwe.
Moeti says the number of Africans losing lives to the virus is high.
"As this surge sweeps across Africa, we are witnessing a brutal cost, and life-lost deaths have climbed steeply for the past five weeks, jumping 40 percent in the past week," Moeti said. "This is a clear warning our hospitals are at a breaking point. In all, 153,000 people have sadly died. Africa is just 1 percent shy of the peak in fatalities reached in January.”
The increase in deaths is partly blamed on the delta coronavirus variant that medical experts say is the most transmittable of all the variants. It has been reported in 21 African countries.
Namibia is one African country where the total number of COVID-19 positives is on the decline. However, more than 1,000 people have died there from COVID-19 in the last month.
Ismail Katjitae is a physician at the Ministry of Health and Social Services in Namibia. He explains why the death rate is so high.
"A high prevalence of comorbidities in some communities, limited capacity in some districts and regions to manage severe and critical cases," Katjitae said. "And a strong misinformation lobby resulting in noncompliance with public health measures, underutilizing available health care services, and delayed complicated presentation in our health facilities.”
So far, only 18 million people out of the 1.3 billion living in Africa have been vaccinated. Some African countries blame the slow vaccination process on the shortage of vaccine doses in the global market.
Catherine Kyobutungi is the head of the African Population and Health Research Center. She says African governments should ask their citizens to follow health protocols like washing hands and wearing masks to limit the spread of the virus.
"Other than the usual measures, Africa does not have too many options without really having much of its population vaccinated," Kyobutungi said. "So, the hope is that in the next month around August, many countries will receive at least substantial doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, but before then, keeping in place the usual measures.”
Most African countries have eased health measures meant to combat the spread of the virus for economic reasons, and failure to follow those measures is blamed for the spread.
Some African countries expect to get hundreds of thousands of vaccines in the coming weeks as the Aspen pharmaceutical company in South Africa begins producing 400 million vaccines.