GENEVA - African health officials are urgently appealing for vaccines to combat a third wave of COVID-19 surging across the continent.
The World Health Organization reports the number of African COVID-19 cases has exceeded 5 million and the disease has killed 136,000 people.
WHO regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti says cases have been increasing over the past four weeks. She says new cases in the past week have risen by nearly 30% across the continent and deaths have increased by 15%.
She says five countries—South Africa, Tunisia, Zambia, Uganda, and Namibia—account for 76% of new coronavirus infections in Africa.
“Africa is in the midst of a full-blown third wave. The sobering trajectory of surging cases should rouse everyone to urgent action,” said Moeti. "We’ve seen in India and elsewhere how quickly COVID-19 can rebound and overwhelm health systems. Public health measures must be scaled up fast to find, test, isolate and care for patients and to quickly trace and isolate their contacts.”
Moeti says it is urgent that Africa quickly receive more vaccines as the circulation of more contagious variants across the continent is accelerating. She says the Delta variant, the most virulent strain, has been reported in 14 African countries, and the Beta and Alpha variants have been found in more than 25 countries.
She says 12 million people in Africa now are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. She welcomes the receipt of vaccine doses from the COVAX sharing facility, an initiative co-led by Gavi, the WHO and CEPI.
However, she says those 12 million people represent less than 1% of Africa’s 1.3 billion population.
"At the continental level, we are seeing a rise in cases similar to the first wave peak in July 2020 and about 50% of the second wave peak in January 2021. … Africa needs millions more doses here and now to curb the third wave, and best practice approaches will be key to make the most of the available vaccines,” said Moeti.
WHO says Africa needs 200 million vaccine doses by the end of September to inoculate 10% of the population against the coronavirus. The European Union has pledged to donate 100 million doses to low-income countries and the United States has said it would provide 80 million doses to poorer countries.