Newly reported cases fell by 20 per cent in the week that ended on January 16, while deaths dropped by 8 per cent. The Omicron variant has been reported in 36 African countries, and 169 nations all over the world.
An employee works on the Production Line of a COVID-19 Vaccine in India
For the first time in Africa
since the peak of the Omicron wave, weekly COVID-19 cases dropped significantly
and deaths dipped, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced.
Newly reported cases fell by 20
per cent in the week that ended on January 16, while deaths dropped by 8 per
cent. The Omicron variant has been reported in 36 African countries, and 169
nations all over the world.
South Africa, where the Omicron
variant was first sequenced, and which has accounted for the bulk of cases and
deaths, has now recorded a downward trend for the past four weeks. Cases also
fell across the rest of the continent, with only North Africa reporting an
increase in cases, with a 55 per cent spike.
According to WHO’s Regional
Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the acceleration, peak and decline of
this last wave have been “unmatched”, but its impact has been moderate, with
fewer deaths and lower hospitalizations. Despite those numbers, Dr Moeti
believes that Africa has yet to turn the tables on this pandemic.
“So long as the virus continues
to circulate, further pandemic waves are inevitable. Africa must not only
broaden vaccinations but also gain increased and equitable access to critical
COVID-19 therapeutics to save lives and effectively combat this pandemic,” she
The current case fatality ratio
(the death toll per infection) in the continent remains the highest in the
world, although it dropped during the last two waves of variants. In terms of
medication, patients with severe forms of the virus are treated with
corticosteroids and medical oxygen. Although corticosteroids are largely available and
relatively affordable, the availability of medical oxygen remains a challenge.
In addition, African countries
face major impediments in accessing other treatments due to limited
availability and high cost. Last week, WHO recommended two
new drugs, raising the number of WHO approved therapeutics to 11, and the
agency is now reviewing the data on two oral medications that promise to reduce
the risk of hospitalization.
Following negotiations with the
Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche, the agency is supporting the shipment of a
limited number of vials of Tocilizumab, a drug used to treat patients with
severe cases. Cape Verde and Uganda have already received vials, while Burkina
Faso, Ghana and Tanzania are due to receive some in the next few weeks.
For Dr Moeti, the deep inequity
that left Africa behind on vaccines must not be repeated with life-saving
“Universal access to diagnostics,
vaccines and therapeutics will pave the shortest path to the end of this
pandemic and no region of the world should be left on the fringes of this endeavour,”
Even though vaccine supplies have
been on the rise, the rate of vaccination remains low, with just 10 per cent of
the continent’s population fully vaccinated. Africa has so far received about
500 million vaccine doses and administered 327 million.
According to Dr Moeti,
significant efforts are needed to ramp up the vaccination to reach a broad swathe
of the population.
By mid-2022, the UN-backed COVAX Facility expects to have
enough supply for all participant countries to fully vaccinate 45 per cent of