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COVID-19: Africa records 43% increase in deaths – WHO

…amid shortage in oxygen supply

Africa has recorded a 43 percent week-on-week rise in COVID-19 deaths, as hospital admissions increase rapidly and countries face shortages in oxygen and intensive care beds, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

The health agency noted that this COVID-19 surge is the fastest the continent has seen, explaining that fatalities increased to 6,273 in the week ending on 11 July 2021 from 4,384 deaths in the previous week.

With this development, Africa is now less than one percent shy of the weekly peak reached in January when 6, 294 deaths were recorded.

This surge, according to WHO, is driven by public fatigue with key health measures and an increased spread of variants.

WHO noted that the Delta variant, which is currently the most transmissible of all variants, has been detected in 21 African countries, while the Alpha variant is in 35 countries and Beta in 30.

The continent’s case fatality rate, which is the proportion of deaths among confirmed cases, currently stands at 2.6 percent against the global average of 2.2 percent.

Namibia, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia accounted for 83 percent of the new deaths recorded in the past week.

Read also: China denies it hampered WHO’s investigation of Covid origins

“Deaths have climbed steeply for the past five weeks. This is a clear warning sign that hospitals in the most impacted countries are reaching a breaking point,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.

She added: “Under-resourced health systems in countries are facing dire shortages of the health workers, supplies, equipment and infrastructure needed to provide care to severely ill COVID-19 patients.”

She disclosed that hospital admissions in around 10 countries have increased rapidly and at least six countries are facing shortages of intensive care unit beds.

Moeti added that the demand for medical oxygen has spiked and is now estimated to be 50 percent higher than at the same time in 2020, yet supply has not kept up.

She noted that “a rapid WHO assessment of six countries facing a resurgence found that just 27 percent of the medical oxygen needed is produced.

“The number one priority for African countries is boosting oxygen production to give critically ill patients a fighting chance.”

COVID-19 cases have risen for eight straight weeks, topping 6 million on 13 July 2021.

Over the past month, Africa recorded an additional 1 million cases. This is the shortest time it’s taken so far to add 1 million cases.

Comparatively, it took around three months to move from 4 million to 5 million cases.

The rise in cases comes amid inadequate vaccine supplies. The continent has vaccinated 52 million people since the start of the vaccine rollout in March this year, accounting for just 1.6 percent of the 3.5 billion people vaccinated worldwide. Only 18 million people in Africa are fully vaccinated, representing 1.5 percent of the continent’s population compared with over 50 percent in some high-income countries. Additional vaccines supplies expected in the coming weeks and months will help shore up the vaccination rates.

Around 190 million extra COVID-19 vaccine doses will be needed to fully vaccinate 10 percent of Africa’s population by September 2021, with around 750 million more doses needed to fully vaccinate 30 percent by the end of 2021.

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