By Haruna Gimba
World Health Organization (WHO) says with the risk of rising COVID-19 cases, African countries urgently need to build critical care capacity to avoid overwhelming existing healthcare facilities.
The global body said in a statement, noting that the call came as vaccine shipments to the continent almost came to a halt.
The statement said that poor compliance with preventive measures, increased population movements and interactions, as well as the onset of winter in southern Africa have increased the risk of a resurgence of COVID-19 in many countries.
It added that in the past two weeks, Africa has seen a 20 percent increase in cases compared to the previous fortnight.
“The pandemic is tending to increase in 14 countries and in the last week alone, eight countries have seen a sharp increase of more than 30 percent in cases.
“South Africa is reporting a sustained increase in cases, while Uganda saw a 131 percent week-over-week increase last week, with clusters of infection in schools, an increase in cases among health workers and isolation centers and intensive care units filling up.
“Angola and Namibia are also experiencing an upsurge in cases. The increase has come as COVID-19 vaccine shipments continue to slow.
“Burkina Faso this week received only 115,000 doses from the COVAX plant, while Rwanda and Togo received about 100,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine each and nearly 20 African countries used more than two-thirds of their doses.”
It explained that the COVAX facility is in talks with several manufacturers, as well as countries that have vaccinated their high-risk groups to share doses, noting that “the threat of a third wave in Africa is real and growing.”
Meanwhile, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said the organization’s priority was clear, stressing that “it is crucial that we get vaccines into the hands of Africans quickly, at high risk of becoming seriously ill and dying from COVID-19.
She made clear the global body’s position in a virtual press conference on Thursday, saying that “while many countries outside Africa have now vaccinated their high priority groups and are even in a position to consider immunizing children, African countries are unable to keep up with second doses, for high risk groups.
“I urge countries that have achieved significant immunization coverage to release doses and keep the most vulnerable Africans out of intensive care,” Moeti said.
According to her, 48.6 million doses were received and 31.4 million doses administered in 50 African countries.
She said about 2% of the population had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 24 percent were vaccinated globally.
“As the continent grapples with vaccine shortages, the care of critically ill COVID-19 patients also lags behind other parts of the world. While Africa has 2.9% of the world’s cases, it accounts for 3.7% of deaths,” she said.
Moeti also said that a WHO survey in May found that in many African countries, essential equipment and healthcare personnel needed to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients are well below what is needed.
She said that of the 23 countries that responded to the survey, most had less than one intensive care unit bed per 100,000 populations and would need an increase of between 2,500 and 3,000% to meet the needs, needs during an increase.
According to her, among the countries providing ventilator information, only a third of their resuscitation beds have mechanical ventilators.
High-income countries like Germany, Luxembourg or the United States of America that have been able to cope with outbreaks of COVID-19 have more than 25 beds per 100,000 inhabitants.
“Many African hospitals and clinics are still far from being ready for a dramatic increase in the number of critically ill patients.
“We need to better equip our hospitals and medical staff to avoid the worst effects of a galloping wave. Treatment is the last line of defense against this virus and we cannot let it be violated,” she said.
She explained that since the start of the pandemic, WHO has worked tirelessly and collaboratively with countries to increase COVID-19 treatment capacity by providing essential medical supplies as well as training health workers.