Nairobi, Kenya | Xinhua | Africa’s COVID-19 deaths that have spiked by more than 40 percent in the recent weeks are a testimony of the severity of a third wave currently sweeping across the continent, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Thursday.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said that the limited supply of oxygen and manpower in the already overwhelmed critical care facilities has fuelled COVID-related deaths in the continent.
“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,” Moeti said in a statement.
She said that the dire shortage of health workers, equipment and infrastructure to provide emergency care to critically ill COVID patients has undermined efforts to minimize fatalities in Africa.
According to Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the continent’s COVID-19 total caseload rose to 6,072,120 as of Thursday while fatalities hit 154,602.
Moeti said that Namibia, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia accounted for 83 percent of new deaths recorded in the past week adding that the continent’s case fatality rate stood at 2.6 percent against the global average of 2.2 percent.
She noted the most severe COVID-19 infections and deaths ever recorded in Africa have been driven by new variants and general apathy towards containment measures like wearing masks and social distancing.
According to Moeti, the Delta variant which is currently the most transmissible has been detected in 21 African countries while Alpha and Beta variants have been identified in 35 and 30 countries respectively.
She said that hospital admissions have increased rapidly in 10 countries while six are grappling with a shortage of intensive care beds hence minimizing chances of survival for severely ill COVID patients.
Demand for medical oxygen according to Moeti has spiked and is estimated to be 50 percent higher than at the same time in 2020, yet the supply has remained lackluster.
“The number one priority for African countries is boosting oxygen production to give critically ill patients a fighting chance,” said Moeti, adding that a rapid WHO assessment of six African countries grappling with surges found that only 27 percent of the medical oxygen required is being produced.
She said that strengthening the treatment and critical care capabilities of African countries alongside speedy roll-out of vaccines is key to reducing fatalities linked to COVID-19.