The World Health Organization is calling for urgent action to stem the rapid spread of COVID-19 across Africa, which is being fueled by a surge of more contagious variants of the disease.
Latest reports say COVID-19 cases in Africa have been rising by 25% every week for the past six weeks, bringing reported cases there to more than 5.4 million, including 141,000 deaths.
WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, warns the rampant spread of the more contagious alpha, beta, and delta variants is raising the pandemic threat across the continent to a new level.
“The speed and scale of Africa’s third wave is like nothing we have seen before,” said Moeti. “Cases are doubling every three weeks, compared to every four weeks at the start of the second wave. Almost 202,000 cases were reported in the past week and the continent is on the verge of exceeding its worst week ever in this pandemic.”
In the same period, WHO reports deaths have risen by 15% across 38 African countries to nearly 3,000. The jump is largely due to the highly transmissible coronavirus variants, which have spread to dozens of countries. The most contagious delta variant has been found in 16 countries. It reportedly has become the dominant strain in South Africa.
Moeti says more people are falling ill and requiring hospitalization, even people younger than 45 years. She says evidence is growing that the delta variant is causing longer and more severe illness.
With Africa’s lack of life-saving vaccines, Moeti says it is important for people to practice public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and frequent handwashing to prevent the disease from spreading.
“With WHO’s guidance, countries are taking action to curb the rise in cases,” said Moeti. “All countries in resurgence in the region have put limits on people gathering to help with physical distancing. …They are using nuanced, risk-based approaches, informed by the local epidemiology, in an effort to avoid nationwide lockdowns that we know cause great harm to livelihoods, particularly for low-income households.”
Vaccines are proving highly effective against the COVID-19 variants and in ending devastating surges of severe cases of the disease. They are widely available in the world’s richest countries, but not Africa.
Moeti is urgently appealing to countries to share their excess doses to help plug the continent’s vaccine gap, saying Africa must not be left languishing in the throes of its worst wave yet.