With vaccine deliveries at a near-standstill and lacking key resources in frontline care, Africa is poorly prepared for the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the UN warned on Thursday.
“Many African hospitals and clinics are still far from ready to cope with a huge rise in critically ill patients,” the World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said.
“The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising,” she said.
Africa has officially registered over 4.8 million Covid-19 cases and 130,000 deaths, according to the WHO, a figure representing 2.9 percent of global cases and 3.7 percent of deaths.
In a survey last month, the agency found that health facilities and personnel that are crucial for critically ill Covid patients are grossly inadequate in many African countries.
Of 23 countries surveyed, it found that most had less than one intensive care unit (ICU) bed per 100,000 population and only one-third had mechanical ventilators.
By comparison, rich countries such as Germany and the United States have more than 25 ICU beds per 100,000 people.
“Treatment is the last line of defence against this virus and we cannot let it be breached,” Moeti stressed in an online briefing, calling for better equipment for hospital and medical staff.
In recent weeks, the continent has seen a rise in infections. The WHO warned in a statement that the pandemic is trending upwards in 14 countries.
“In the past week alone, eight countries witnessed an abrupt rise of over 30 percent in cases,” it said.
Feared third wave
South Africa, officially the most affected country on the continent, has tightened health restrictions and now has more than 1.6 million cases and 56,439 deaths.
In Uganda, the number of cases has jumped 131 percent in one week with outbreaks in schools and an increase in cases among health workers. Angola and Namibia are also seeing a resurgence.
The WHO, in a weekly bulletin, said on Thursday it had detected an “exponential” rise of cases in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A DRC health ministry official confirmed “the third wave of Covid-19 is already there — it’s the Indian (Delta) and South African (Beta) variants,” adding that this wave was potentially “deadlier” than previous ones.
Daily national figures in DR Congo have risen from several dozen in past weeks to 243 on Thursday.
Simultaneously, the continent is facing a shortage of vaccines, with deliveries almost marking time, according to WHO.
India, a major source of jabs for developing countries, announced in late March that it would delay exporting vaccines to help fight a devastating wave of infections at home.
The WHO is hoping for new deliveries in the coming months through the international Covax scheme, including a pledge of 80 million doses from the United States.
Only two percent of Africans to date have received at least one vaccine jab, while 24 percent of the world’s population is now vaccinated.
Of six countries that have not kicked off immunisation, four are in Africa — Tanzania, Burundi, Chad and Eritrea.