A year and a half since it started, the pandemic is on the rise again in much of the world with, pushed largely by the highly contagious Delta variant.
In Africa, countries are steadily getting to the peak of the third wave of Covid-19 infections largely driven by the Delta variant that may be twice as transmissible as the original coronavirus.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the cases have increased in Africa for six weeks running, rising by 25 per cent week-on-week to almost 202,000 in the week ending June 27.
Within the same period, deaths have gone up by 15 per cent across 38 African countries.
The Delta variant, which was first detected in India, has so far been reported in 16 African countries, including nine with steady surge in cases.
Transmissible at an estimate of 30–60 percent more than other variants, Delta variant is dominant in South Africa, which account for more than half of Africa’s cases in the same period.
According to the latest country reports, the Delta variant was detected in 97 per cent of samples sequenced in Uganda and 79 per cent of samples sequenced in the Democratic Republic of the 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. More transmission means more serious illness and more deaths, so everyone must act now and boost prevention measures to stop an emergency becoming a tragedy,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
In Uganda, over 60 per cent of severe illness in people younger than 45 years is attributed to the Delta variant.
With rising case numbers and hospitalizations across Africa, WHO estimates that oxygen demand in Africa has doubled compared to the first wave peak over a year ago.
Previously, the Alpha and Beta variants have been reported in 32 and 27 countries respectively in Africa.
While the Alpha variant has been detected in most countries in North, West and Central Africa, the Beta variant is more widespread in southern Africa. Both of these variants are more transmissible than the original virus.
WHO Regional Director say with the organization’s support, genomic surveillance to track the spread of variants in Africa is increasing, 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.
A better understanding of the molecular evolution of the variants will also aid countries in making quick decisions around which vaccines to use.
Although eight vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective and have received WHO emergency use listing, shipments to Africa have dried up.
The latest data shows that only 15 million people, which is equivalent to just 1.2 per cent of the population in Africa, are 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.