Pivotal point in Africa’s Covid-19 third wave as New Cases Slows down

ADDIS ABABA – Following eight consecutive weeks of a fast-moving surge, new COVID-19 cases in Africa have slowed down, driven by a sharp drop in South Africa which accounts for the bulk of the continent’s reported cases, new data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows.

New case numbers in Africa fell by 1.7% to nearly 282 000 in the week ending 18 July. Yet removing data from South Africa, which accounts for 37% of these cases, reveals a uniquely steep and unbroken nine-week surge.

The current peak is 80% higher than Africa’s previous peak when data from South Africa is excluded.

Without the data from South Africa, cases rose in Africa by 18% to over 182 000 in the week ending on July 18.

“Be under no illusions, Africa’s third wave is absolutely not over. This small step forward offers hope and inspiration but must not mask the big picture for Africa,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.

“Many countries are still at peak risk and Africa’s third wave surged up faster and higher than ever before,” she said.

The director said the Eid celebrations, which we marked this week, “may also result in a rise in cases. We must all double down on prevention measures to build on these fragile gains”.

Twenty-one African countries have seen cases rise by over 20% for at least two weeks running, says WHO Africa that claims the highly transmissible Delta variant has been found in 26 nations in the continent.

The Alpha variant is in 38 countries and Beta is in 35.

WHO says Vaccine coming

As the squeeze on vaccine shipments eases, the WHO urges African countries to urgently ramp up COVID-19 vaccinations.

It also says around 60 million doses are set to arrive in the coming weeks from the United States of America, Team Europe, the United Kingdom, purchased doses and other partners through the COVAX Facility.

Over half a billion doses are expected through COVAX alone this year, according to WHO.

“A massive influx of doses means that Africa must go all out and speed up the vaccine rollout by five to six times if we are to get all these doses into arms and fully vaccinate the most vulnerable 10% of all Africans by the end of September,” said Dr Moeti.

Nearly 70% of African countries will not reach the 10% vaccination target for all countries by the end of September at the current pace.

Around 3.5 million to 4 million doses are administered weekly on the continent, but to meet the September target this must rise to 21 million doses at the very least each week.

Just 20 million Africans, or 1.5% of the continent’s population, are fully vaccinated so far and just 1.7% of the 3.7 billion doses given globally have been administered in Africa. High-income countries have administered 62 times more doses per person than low-income countries.

The World Bank estimates that in addition to the US$ 9.5 billion needed to buy enough vaccines to ensure adequate protection from COVID-19, another US$ 3 billion is required to fund operations.

“To increase uptake, countries must scale up operations, investments on operational costs and address vaccine confidence. Countries need sufficient vaccine sites and health care workers, sufficient vaccine storage, and adequate transport and logistics for distribution,” said Dr Moeti.