Namibia has become the latest country to confirm the presence the delta variant of COVID-19, as the World Health Organisation this week called for urgent unified action to combat the deadlier strain.
WHO says over the past six weeks, COVID-19 cases in Africa have been rising by 25 percent every week, and the continent has recorded more than 5.4 million infections and over 141,000 deaths. The death rate over that period has risen by 15 percent.
Across the continent, cases rose by almost 200 percent between June and July.
According to NGO One Campaign, “Hospitalisations increased by 40 percent across the continent in the week to 20 June, and by a further 42 percent the week after, stretching healthcare services to breaking point.”
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention adds that at least 21 African countries are in the grip of the third wave of the pandemic.
Among the worst affected are the DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have imposed tough lockdowns to try to contain the third wave, and they are upping vaccine rollouts.
The DRC has registered a 183 percent surge in cases over the past month.
WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said the spread of the more contagious alpha, beta, and delta variants had increased the pandemic’s threat level on the continent.
“The speed and scale of Africa’s third wave is like nothing we have seen before. 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,” Dr Moeti said.
Delta, according to WHO, is 30-60 percent than earlier more transmissible than earlier variants and it has become the dominant strain behind infections and deaths in South Africa.
Other Southern African countries that have recently reported presence of the variant are Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Executive Director in Namibia’s Health and Social Services Ministry, Mr Ben Nangombe, this week said of 28 samples tested by the University of Namibia, 17 came out positive for the delta variant.
Over the past two weeks, nine senior Namibian officials have succumbed to COVID-19 reflecting how the country currently has one of the world’s highest infection rates.
The country recorded 4,795 cases per million people last week, the highest rate in the world over that period, at an uptick of 1,000 new cases daily.
Vaccination in Numbers
WHO has said Africa needs immediate support to improve vaccination numbers to deal with the third wave.
Data from statista shows that as of July 5, SADC member state the Seychelles had the highest COVID-19 vaccination rate in Africa, after administering 141 doses per 100 individuals.
“Morocco had a vaccination rate of approximately 52 doses per 100 people, registering the highest number of inoculations. In South Africa, the most affected country on the continent, the vaccination rate reached only 5,6 people per 100 population (3,3 million people in total).”
While South Africa’s vaccination numbers are low as a percentage of the target population, the country has more vaccines in stock than most African countries, which are struggling to access doses for citizens.
Rich countries have been accused of hoarding vaccines at the expense of developing nations, something that Presidents Hage Geingob (Namibia) and Cyril Ramaphosa have described as “vaccine apartheid”.
WHO boss Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week, “The inequitable distribution of vaccines means that people in low- and middle-income countries are most susceptible to severe forms of COVID-19. So, the greatest need for these drugs is in countries that currently have the least access. We must urgently change this.”
One’s Africa Covid Tracker shows that of more than three billion doses administered globally, less than two percent were done in Africa.
“(Rich) countries have purchased enough doses to vaccinate their entire population and still have more than 2.5 billion doses left over, which could be used to reduce the spread of variants, reopen the global economy, and end the global pandemic faster,” the NGO said.
Meanwhile, WHO has updated its patient care guidelines to include interleukin-6 receptor blockers, “a class of medicines that are lifesaving in patients who are severely or critically ill with COVID-19”.
“The prospective and living network meta-analyses showed that in severely or critically ill patients, administering these drugs reduce the odds of death by 13 percent compared to standard care. This means that there will be 15 fewer deaths per thousand patients, and as many as 28 fewer deaths for every thousand critically ill patients.
“The odds of mechanical ventilation among severe and critical patients are reduced by 28 percent, compared with standard care. This translates to 23 fewer patients out of a thousand needing mechanical ventilation.
“These drugs offer hope for patients and families who are suffering from the devastating impact of severe and critical COVID-19. But IL-6 receptor blockers remain inaccessible and unaffordable for the majority of the world,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Ghebreyesus.
Reporting by Gracious Madondo & Leslie Chimbama in Harare, and Tiri Masawi in Windhoek