More ‘dangerous’ Covid-19 variants may surface, Africa reels

Covid-19 may result in the emergence of more “dangerous” variants that can be challenging to control, according to the WHO.

The pandemic, which has so far killed more than 4 million people globally, “is nowhere near finished,” according to a WHO statement issued at the end of the eighth meeting of the Emergency Committee.

“The pandemic continues to evolve with four variants of concern dominating global epidemiology,” stated the committee, convened by the WHO Director-General under the International Health Regulations (2005) regarding the coronavirus disease on July 14.

“The Committee recognized the strong likelihood for the emergence and global spread of new and possibly more dangerous variants of concern that may be even more challenging to control.”

It also threw light on the risk of the emergence of new zoonotic diseases while still responding to the current pandemic. The Committee noted the importance of states parties’ continued vigilance for detection and mitigation of new zoonotic diseases.

Oxygen shortage in Africa

Africa has recorded a 43% week-on-week rise in Covid deaths, as the hospital admissions increase rapidly and countries face shortages in oxygen and intensive care beds, according to another WHO statement.

Fatalities increased to 6,273 in the week ending on 11 July 2021 from 4,384 deaths in the previous week. Africa is now less than 1% shy of the weekly peak reached in January when 6,294 deaths were recorded. Namibia, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zambia accounted for 83% of the new deaths recorded in the past week.

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

Rising cases

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.

This COVID-19 surge is the fastest the continent has seen.

The surge is driven by public fatigue with key health measures and an increased spread of variants. To date, 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.

“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 Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.

Inadequate vaccine supplies

“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. Hospital admissions in around 10 countries have increased rapidly and at least six countries are facing shortages of intensive care unit beds.

“Demand for medical oxygen has spiked and is now estimated to be 50% higher than at the same time in 2020, yet supply has not kept up. A rapid WHO assessment of six countries facing a resurgence found that just 27% of the medical oxygen needed is produced,” Dr. Moeti said.

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% of the 3.5 billion people vaccinated worldwide. Only 18 million people in Africa are fully vaccinated, representing 1.5% of the continent’s population, compared with over 50% in some high-income countries.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *