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New Covid- 19 variants fueling the continents surging third wave

As Covid-19 case numbers in Africa climb faster than all earlier peaks, new and faster spreading variants are fueling the continent’s surging third wave.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cases have increased in Africa for six weeks running and rose by 25per cent week-on-week to almost 202, 000 in the week ending on June 27th.

This reached (9/10) nine tenths of the continent’s previous record of 224, 000 new cases while the deaths rose by 15 per cent across 38 African countries to nearly 3, 000 in the same period.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, speaking in a virtual meeting, today, on Africa’s Surging Wave, said that with case numbers doubling every three weeks, the Delta variant is spreading to a growing number of countries.

It has been reported in 16 countries, including nine with surging cases and is the most contagious variant yet, an estimated 30 per cent to 60 per cent more transmissible than other variants.

The variant is in three countries namely, Uganda, South Africa and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who have reported the highest cases loads for the week ending 27 June.

The Delta variant was detected in 97 per cent of samples sequenced in Uganda, dominant in South Africa which accounted for more than half of Africa’s cases and 79 per cent of samples in DR Congo.

“The speed and scale of Africa’s third wave is like nothing we’ve seen before. The rampant spread of more contagious variants pushes the threat to Africa, up to a whole new level”, Dr. Moeti said.

She added that more transmission means more serious illness and more deaths and therefore, everyone must act now and boost prevention measures to stop an emergency becoming a tragedy.

With rising case numbers and hospitalizations across the continent, WHO estimates that oxygen demand in Africa is now 50 per cent greater than for the first wave peak one year ago.

WHO is supporting in genomic surveillance to track the spread of variants in Africa with the aim of boosting sampling for sequencing by eight to ten times during the next six months at five laboratories covering 14 southern African countries which will aid countries in making quick decisions around which vaccines to use.

WHO says that although eight vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective and have received WHO emergency use listing, shipments to Africa have dried up with only 15 million people which is just 1.2 per cent of the African population being fully vaccinated.

“While supply challenges grind on, dose sharing can help plug the gap. We are grateful for the pledges made by our international partners, but we need urgent action on allocations. Africa must not be left languishing in the throes of its worst wave yet,” said Dr. Moeti.

Meanwhile, a Task Force to track and coordinate adverse delivery of Covid- 19 health tools, especially increasing supplies of vaccines, has met today.

The Task Force formed by the Heads of the World Bank Group, International Monetary Fund, World Health Organization, and World Trade Organization is looking at practical and effective ways to track, coordinate and advance delivery of Covid-19 vaccines to developing countries.

In a joint statement, today, the four organizations noted that as many countries continue struggling with new variants and a third wave of Covid-19 infections, accelerating access to vaccines becomes even more critical to ending the pandemic everywhere and achieving broad-based growth.

“We are deeply concerned about the limited vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, and support for deliveries available to developing countries. Urgent action is needed now to arrest the rising human toll due to the pandemic, and to halt further divergence in the economic recovery between advanced economies and the rest”, the joint statement said.

By Wangari Ndirangu

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