Brazzaville – As the risk of an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases increases, African countries urgently need to build intensive care capacity to prevent health facilities from being overwhelmed. It comes as vaccine shipments to the mainland almost come to a halt.
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.
In the past two weeks, Africa has recorded a 20% 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% in cases. South Africa reports a sustained increase in cases, while Uganda saw a 131% 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 comes as shipments of COVID-19 vaccines continue to slow. Burkina Faso received only 115,000 doses from the COVAX plant this week, while Rwanda and Togo each received around 100,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine. Almost 20 African countries have used more than two-thirds of their doses. The COVAX Facility is in talks with several manufacturers, as well as countries that have vaccinated their high-risk groups to share doses.
“The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and growing. Our priority is clear: It is crucial that we quickly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of becoming seriously ill and dying from COVID-19, ”said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, regional director of the World Organization for the Protection of Human Rights. health (WHO) for Africa. “While many countries outside of Africa have now vaccinated their priority groups and are even able to consider vaccinating their children, African countries are not even able to follow up with a second dose for the groups at. high risk. I urge countries that have achieved significant immunization coverage to release doses and keep the most vulnerable Africans out of intensive care.
A total of 48.6 million doses were received and 31.4 million doses were administered in 50 countries in Africa, where about 2% of the population received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while worldwide 24% have been vaccinated.
As the continent grapples with vaccine shortages, care for critically ill COVID-19 patients also lags behind other parts of the world. While Africa accounts for 2.9% of cases worldwide, it accounts for 3.7% of deaths.
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. Of the 23 countries that responded to the survey, most have less than one intensive care unit bed per 100,000 population and will need an increase of between 2,500% and 3,000% to meet the needs. of a push. Among the countries providing information on ventilators, only a third of their intensive care 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 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 runaway wave, ”said Dr Moeti. “Treatment is the last line of defense against this virus and we cannot let it be violated. “
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. The number of oxygen concentrators, for example, rose to more than 6,700 in April 2021 from 2,600 in April 2020, with WHO providing around 3,700 medical equipment to countries in addition to shipping around 680 ventilators.
The organization has also deployed 21 COVID-19 treatment experts to eight countries to help with the clinical care of critically ill patients and share their expertise with national health workers.
To further strengthen COVID-19 intensive care services, WHO recommends that each district hospital have a high dependency unit, while those at the regional or provincial level have an intensive care unit and higher level health facilities. set up 2-3 intensive care units. All intensive care units should be suitably equipped.
Dr Moeti spoke at a virtual press conference today facilitated by APO Group. She was joined by Prof Daye Ka, Infectious and Tropical Disease Expert, COVID-19 Working Group Member, Treatment Pillar, Senegal, and Dr Norbert Ndjeka, Director, Drug Resistant TB, TB and HIV, Ministry of Health, South Africa. Dr Richard Mihigo, Coordinator, Immunization and Vaccine Development Program, WHO Regional Office for Africa, and Dr Thierno Balde, Team Leader, Operational Partnerships, WHO Regional Office for Africa, were also present to answer questions.