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Delta variant has spiked Covid-19 deaths in Africa by 80% in one month, WHO says

<i>Guillem Sartorio/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>
AFP via Getty Images
Guillem Sartorio/AFP/Getty Images

By Nimi Princewill, CNN

Coronavirus deaths in Africa rose rapidly over the past month, as fatalities surged by 80 percent within the last four weeks, the World Health Organization has said.

WHO’s Vaccine Introduction Officer for the African Region, Phionah Atuhebwe, told CNN on Monday that the continent was witnessing an unprecedented rise in coronavirus fatalities.

“COVID-19 death rates have increased across Africa, with the highest weekly rate (6,343) to date reported during the week starting 19 July 2021,” said Atuhebwe.

“Deaths increased by 89%, from 13,242 to 24,987, in the last 28 days, when compared against statistics for the previous 28 days,” she added.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference Friday that the pandemic’s worsening death toll and rapid infection rate are “being driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant,” which is considered to be more deadly than the original strain of coronavirus.

Ghebreyesus said the Delta variant — so far “detected in at least 132 countries” — has also spiked Covid-19 infections globally by 80 percent within the past four weeks.

“Almost 4 million cases were reported to WHO last week, and on current trends, we expect the total number of cases to pass 200 million within the next two weeks,” Ghebreyesus added.

Africa at ‘higher risk’

Atuhebwe explained that most new deaths in the last 28 days were reported from Southern Africa, which she said accounts for 64 percent of the burgeoning death rate with 16,019, while North Africa accounts for 24 percent with 6036 deaths. Both subregions accounted for 88 percent of all reported deaths in the past month, the WHO official added.

Atuhebwe said at least 15 African countries are currently recording an upward trend in weekly deaths associated with COVID-19.

“The 15 countries are Algeria, Botswana, DRC, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritania, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Libya, Tunisia, and Morocco,” she said, attributing the surge in Covid fatality rates to increased transmission rates of the virus.

In West Africa, a resurgence of cases is overwhelming the already stretched healthcare systems of affected countries in the region. Less than one million of Senegal’s 16 million people have received Covid-19 vaccination, setting the country up for a devastating third wave of infections, which saw more than 15,000 new Covid cases last month.

While in Nigeria, a rise in the number of Covid deaths is also causing concern. Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said Monday that there has been a daily average of six deaths at its isolation centers in the past week. Sanwo-Olu added that there had been an eight-fold increase in infection rate in Lagos, resulting in 4,300 confirmed cases in July alone, while 352 patients were admitted into the state-run isolation centers.

A slow vaccination effort

Only around 1.5 percent of Africa’s more than one billion people have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Much of the continent relies on donations from the global vaccine sharing scheme COVAX, as well as donations from China, India, and the US.

Africa’s slow vaccination rate has been largely hinged on global vaccine inequality as wealthier countries in the West stockpile more Covid shots than they need.

Ghebreyesus described the global distribution of vaccines as “unjust” while expressing worry that Africa was at higher risk of being overrun by the pandemic due to vaccine shortages.

“All regions are at risk, but none more so than Africa… Many African countries have prepared well to roll out vaccines, but the vaccines have not arrived,” he said. “This is a very serious problem if we’re going to take action against this pandemic and end it.”

Vaccination efforts are ramping up as donations trickle in. The US this week sent millions of doses to countries including Senegal, South Africa and Nigeria.

Over the weekend Nigeria received delivery of 4 million doses of the Moderna vaccine on Sunday, this is in addition to more than 4 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca earlier received from COVAX in March, the country’s vaccination agency said Monday. More than 2 million people have so far received a vaccination shot in Nigeria, with more than one million fully vaccinated.

South Africa took delivery of 2.8 million out of an expected 5.6 million Pfizer vaccines donated by the US government. The country has recorded more than 2 million Covid cases and 72,000 deaths — the highest in Africa.

The WHO had unveiled plans to support countries in vaccinating at least 10 percent of their population by the end of September. The global health body now says just over half of countries worldwide have inoculated 10 percent of their population.

However, nearly 70 percent of African nations will not achieve this landmark by September, the WHO director-general stated.

“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,” he said.

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