The World Health Organisation, WHO, through its Africa Regional Office COVID-19 update says, weekly COVID-19 cases in Africa have dropped significantly and deaths dipped for the first time since the peak of the fourth pandemic wave propelled by the Omicron variant.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, who revealed this at a press briefing today said, the decline nudges the continent past its shortest upsurge yet that lasted 56 days.
Newly reported cases fell by 20% in the week to 16 January, while deaths dropped by 8%. The decrease in deaths is still small and further monitoring is needed, but if the trend continues the surge in deaths will also be the shortest reported so far during this pandemic.
South Africa where Omicron was first sequenced, and which has accounted for the bulk of cases and deaths—has recorded a downward trend over the past four weeks.
Dr. Matshidiso explained that only North Africa reported an increase in cases over the past week, with a 55% spike, just as cases fell across the rest of Africa, where, as of the 16 January, there were 10.4 million cumulative COVID-19 cases and more than 233 000 deaths.
The Omicron-fuelled pandemic wave is said to have resulted in the lowest cumulative average case fatality ratio as the proportion of deaths among confirmed cases to date in Africa, stands at 0.68% compared with the three previous waves during which the case fatality ratio was above 2.4%.
The Omicron variant has now been reported in 36 African countries, and 169 globally.
The Regional Director was quoted as saying that “While the acceleration, peak and decline of this wave have been unmatched, its impact has been moderate, and Africa is emerging with fewer deaths and lower hospitalizations. But the continent 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.”
Comparing Africa’s case fatality to the rest of the world, it was revealed that the African region’s current case fatality ratio remains the highest in the world, although it has been lowered in the last two waves.
Reference was also made to availability and efficiency of healthcare facilities in Africa and it was noted that while improvements have been made in the availability of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds for COVID-19 patients from 0.8 per 100 000 population to 2.0 per 100 000, the numbers are still far from sufficient to meet the demands of the pandemic.
And in terms of medication it was explained that currently patients with severe forms of the virus are being treated with corticosteroids and medical oxygen, and while corticosteroids are largely available and relatively affordable, but availability of medical oxygen remains a challenge across the continent.