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Rising Mortality as Africa Marks One Year of COVID-19

Over 22,300 deaths were reported in Africa in the last 28 days, compared with nearly 16 000 deaths in the previous 28 days, according to statistics by the World Health Organization.
Deaths from COVID-19 in Africa have surged by 40% in the last month, pushing Africa’s death toll towards 100,000 since the first reported case on the continent on 14 February 2020.

This comes as Africa battles new, more contagious variants and gears up for its largest-ever vaccination drive. Over 22, 300 deaths were reported in Africa in the last 28 days, compared with nearly 16, 000 deaths in the previous 28 days, according to statistics by the World Health Organisation.

The continent is expected to reach 100 000 deaths in the coming days. 32 countries reported a rise in deaths in the last 28 days, while 21 countries including Uganda reported flat or falling rates.  Africa’s COVID-19 fatality rate rose to 3.7% during the last 28 days compared to 2.4% in the previous 28 days and is now well above the global average.

This spike in mortality comes as Africa’s second wave of cases which began in October 2020 seems to have peaked on 6 January 2021. The second wave spread much faster than the first and is far more lethal, according to scientists.

“The increasing deaths from COVID-19 we are seeing are tragic but are also disturbing warning signs that health workers and health systems in Africa are dangerously overstretched. This grim milestone must refocus everyone on stamping out the virus,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa during the weekly press conference on Thursday.

In the second wave as cases surged far beyond the peak experienced in the first wave, health facilities have become overwhelmed. Preliminary reports which WHO has received from 21 countries show that 66% reported inadequate critical care capacity, 24% reported burnout among health workers and 15 countries reported that oxygen production, crucial for severely ill COVID-19 patients, remains insufficient.

Apart from that, the one-year milestone comes as the continent faces the spread of new strains of the virus. Variant 501Y.V2 first identified in South Africa has been detected in eight African countries, while the VOC202012/01 variant initially identified in the United Kingdom has been detected in six countries on the continent.

This grim picture according to experts will be reversed if the big number of people in Africa get vaccinated.

Moeti for instance said, "If cases remain mostly mild and moderate and don’t require critical care then we can save many lives. So, my message is, go out and get vaccinated when a vaccine becomes available in your country.”

On Wednesday, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, known as SAGE, strongly recommended that countries use the AstraZeneca vaccine, for priority groups, even if variants are present in a country. Moeti says these preliminary findings highlight the urgent need for a coordinated approach for surveillance and evaluation of variants and their potential impact on vaccine effectiveness. 

She however urged countries to remain vigilant noting that the pandemic is far from over and vaccines arrival doesn’t mean countries becoming complacent. “Vaccines are just one crucial tool in our fight against the virus. We must boost investments and support for our health workers and health systems by sticking to mask-wearing, regular hand cleaning and safe social distancing".

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