Africa on track to control COVID-19 this year – WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the African continent can control the COVID-19 pandemic in 2022 if current trends continue, warning vigilance remains key.

Africa identified its first case of COVID-19 on February 14, 2020 and has since witnessed four waves each with higher peaks or more total new cases than the previous.

The surges, according to WHO were mostly driven by new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which was highly transmissible though not more fatal than prior waves.

The WHO Regional Office for Africa   said in a press release that each subsequent wave had triggered a response that had been more effective than the previous, with each surge shorter by 23 per cent on average from the one before.

It said while the first wave lasted about 29 weeks (about 6 and a half months), the fourth wave was over in six weeks, or about a fifth of the time.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said over the past two years, the African continent had gotten smarter, faster, and better at responding to each new surge in cases of COVID-19.

“Against the odds, including huge inequities in access to vaccination, we’ve weathered the COVID-19 storm with resilience and determination, informed by Africa’s long history and experience with controlling outbreaks,” she said.

She stated that COVID-19 had cost the African continent dearly, with more than 242 000 lives lost with tremendous damage to the economies.

The World Bank estimated that the COVID-19 pandemic had pushed, up to 40 million people into extreme poverty on the continent, and every month of delay in lifting containment measures is estimated to cost Africa $13.8 billion in loss to gross domestic product.

“This year we can end the disruption and destruction the virus has left in its path, and gain back control over our lives,” Dr Moeti said.

She said controlling the pandemic must be a priority, saying, “we understand no two countries have had the same pandemic experience, and each country must, therefore, chart its own way out of this emergency.”

When Africa experienced its first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the proportion of infected people who died was 2.5 per cent high, the figure rose to 2.7 per cent during the Beta-driven second wave, before going back down to 2.4 per cent during the Delta-powered third wave.

Dr Moeti said since the start of the pandemic, the continent’s capacity to manage COVID-19 cases had gradually improved, with increased availability of trained health workers, oxygen, and other medical supplies.

“As we enter this new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must use the lessons learned over the past two years to strengthen our continent’s health systems so that we are better prepared to handle future waves of the disease,” Dr Moeti said.

She said with new variants fueling waves, it was critical that countries strengthened their capacity to detect them through improved genome sequencing, to help spot other deadly viruses swiftly.

Dr Moeti said the most powerful weapon against the emergence of new variants was vaccination.

To date, about 672 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been received in Africa, out of which 65 per cent are facilitated by COVAX, 29 per cent via bilateral deals and six per cent through the African Union’s Vaccines Acquisition Trust.

In January 2022, 96 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were shipped to Africa.

Source: GNA

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