CONGO – Africa has recorded a 43% week-on-week rise in COVID-19 deaths, as hospital admissions increase rapidly and countries face shortages in oxygen and intensive care beds.

Fatalities increased to 6273 in the week ending on 11 July 2021 from 4384 deaths in the previous week. Africa is now less than 1% shy of the weekly peak reached in January when 6294 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 currently stands at 2.6% against the global average of 2.2%.

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.

COVID-19 cases have risen for eight straight weeks, now topping 6 million infections. 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.

WHO ha said 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.

The continents demand for medical oxygen as spiked and is now estimated to be 50% higher than at the same time in 2020, yet supply has not kept up. This is attributed to a rapid increase in hospital admissions across nations.

“The number one priority for African countries is boosting oxygen production to give critically ill patients a fighting chance,” Dr Moeti said. “Effective treatment is the last line of defense against COVID-19 and it must not crumble.”

A study carried by WHO showed that only a small fraction of countries had included corticosteroids in their national treatment guidelines, as recommended by WHO. Ata least 9 countries are using medications that are not recommended in treating COVID-19, such as hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir.

“The double barrier of vaccine scarcity and treatment challenges is seriously undermining effective response to the surging pandemic,” said Dr Moeti.

Meanwhile, 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.

The continent is expecting to receive more vaccines in the coming weeks to boost immunization activities. Around 190 million extra COVID-19 vaccine doses will be needed to fully vaccinate 10% of the Africa’s population by September 2021, with around 750 million more doses needed to fully vaccinate 30% by the end of 2021.