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Africa’s third wave is killing thousands and the world is not paying attention

July 1, 2021 by PATH

In some African countries the death rate has tripled in a week.

Lebowakgomo, Limpopo, South Africa -04262020 - Community Healthcare Workers conduct door to door screening for covid-19 in South Africa in a bid to minimise the spread of the virus. By Mukurukuru Media

Community health care workers conduct door-to-door screening for COVID-19 in South Africa in April 2021. Photo: Shutterstock/Mukurukuru Media.

Africa, home to 17.7 percent of the world’s population, has received just 1 percent of the world’s COVID-19 vaccine supply, and the result of that inequity is an accelerating tragedy at continental scale.

“The third wave is picking up speed, spreading faster, hitting harder,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, in her weekly briefing to address the crisis. “Africa can still blunt the impact of these fast-rising infections, but the window of opportunity is closing.”

IMF chart, 3 speed vaccinations - credit: IMF

Source: International Monetary Fund

And while the world’s attention has turned to Italy, to New York, to India, and to other global hot spots during this pandemic, the current suffering in Africa is not receiving the same news coverage—or the same outpouring of response.

The Africa COVID-19 crisis by the numbers

The following figures, assembled by PATH’s global team, put the impact of the current Africa COVID-19 crisis in perspective.

The Delta variant that has devastated India has now been detected in at least 14 African countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, Namibia, and Uganda, according to the Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong.

In Uganda less than 2 percent of the population has been vaccinated, and the national supply of COVID-19 vaccines has been exhausted. The country is able to produce about 3,000 cylinders of medical oxygen per day, and currently it has demand for approximately 25,000 cylinders per day.

Severely ill COVID-19 patients on the African continent die at rates far higher than anywhere else in the world. A study of COVID-19 mortality in ten African nations, published last month in the British medical journal The Lancet, found that half of those admitted to intensive care units didn't survive.

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In South Africa, the highly transmissible Delta variant seems to be the dominant strain in this current wave of infection. And in Gauteng Province, home to 25 percent of the country’s population, the daily rate of COVID-19 infections is now two and a half times higher than the peak during the first or second waves. Less than 5 percent of South Africans have been vaccinated.

South Africa accounts for close to 40 percent of all COVID-19 deaths on the continent, with 60,038 officially recorded fatalities so far.

A medical officer serving under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) prepares to administer the COVID-19 vaccine . Photo: UNISOM/Mokhtar Mohamed https://www.flickr.com/photos/au_unistphotostream/51185088743

A Ugandan medical officer prepares to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: AMISOM/Mokhtar Mohamed.

Vaccines are the key to controlling this pandemic

Only 1 percent of the continent’s 1.3 billion people have been vaccinated, according to WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Globally, around 2.7 billion vaccine doses have been administered, of which less than 1.5 percent have been given in the African continent, according to WHO Africa.

The vaccine rollout in sub-Saharan Africa remains the slowest in the world. Fewer than one adult in every hundred is fully vaccinated, compared to an average of more than 30 in more advanced economies. This means even most essential frontline workers continue to work unprotected.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that at current rates of vaccination, by the end of 2021 a massive global inequity will continue to exist, with Africa still experiencing extremely low vaccination rates while other parts of the world move much closer to full vaccination.

Estimated percent of population fully vaccinated as of the end of 2021 if we continue at the current rate of vaccination. Credit: IMF

Estimated percent of population fully vaccinated by the end of 2021 if we continue at the current rate of vaccination. Source: International Monetary Fund.

We can do better

“Some African countries are facing their worst outbreaks yet, while other places return to normal. It is clear that the war against this pandemic is far from being won," says Nanthalile Mugala, MD, PATH’s Chief of the Africa Region. "We can turn this around, but we need quick action to increase vaccine access, better test and track cases, and ensure adequate oxygen supply. Global leaders and bodies have a responsibility to deliver on their commitments.”

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PATH experts in Africa, Asia, and the Americas are available as a resource to journalists covering the pandemic. Learn more in our Media Center.

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