World Health Organisation and Project Hope, have warned that although new COVID-19 cases across Africa may be starting to trend downwards, the third wave is far from over and several countries remain dangerously affected by the spread of the Delta variant.

They also expressed fears that the week’s Sallah celebrations could worsen the situation and spike the number of cases of the deadly infection.

“Be under no illusions, Africa’s third wave is absolutely not over,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organisation, Regional Director for Africa.

“This small step forward offers hope and inspiration but must not mask the big picture for Africa. Many countries are still at peak risk and Africa’s third wave surge surged up faster and higher than ever before. The Eid celebrations which we marked this week may also result in a rise in cases.

“We must all double down on prevention measures to build on these fragile gains.”

Twenty-one African countries have seen cases rise by over 20percent for at least two weeks running, which is an increase of three countries over the previous week, and the highly transmissible Delta variant has been found in 26 African countries. The alpha variant is in 38 countries and Beta is in 35.

South Africa’s gains remain uncertain as protests have disrupted the country’s response, including disease surveillance and testing. Violent mass gatherings could also trigger another rise in cases.

Dr Moeti urged African countries to urgently ramp up covid-19 vaccinations as the squeeze on vaccine shipments eases.

Around 60million doses are set to arrive in the coming weeks from the United States of America, Team Europe, the United Kingdom, purchase doses and other partners through the COVAX facility. Over half a billion doses are expected through COVAX alone this year.

“A massive influx of doses means that Africa must go all out and speed up the vaccine rollout by five to six times if we are to get all these doses into arms and fully vaccinate the most vulnerable 10percent of all Africans by the end of September,” said Dr Moeti.

In the same vein, Project HOPE, a global health and humanitarian organization operating in more than 25 countries, also warns that the third COVID-19 wave across African countries could be a prelude to deadlier waves in the weeks to come.

Dr Tom Kenyon

 “The explosive nature with which the third COVID-19 wave hit African countries is not surprising – the highly infectious Delta variant reached a largely impoverished and unvaccinated population of 1.3 billion,” said Dr Tom Kenyon, Chief Health Officer at Project HOPE and former Director of the Centre for Global Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“What is surprising is the failure thus far of the donor community and pharmaceutical industry to support efforts by African leaders to vaccinate their communities. I’m fearful of a wave in Africa like we saw in India where millions may have succumbed to COVID-19.”

The organisation said while the number of COVID-19 infections has dropped in South Africa, which accounted for 37 percent of the continent’s cases last week, the virus continues to spread in several countries, such as Algeria, Morocco, Senegal, and Mauritania.

These countries, it said, could also see a further increase in cases following the recent Eid celebrations, which led to mass gatherings.

PH also noted that the third wave put existing medical resources under great strain with hospitals facing shortages of oxygen supplies and ICU beds. With only 1.5 percent of Africa’s population – about 20 million people – fully vaccinated and overstretched health systems, the prospect of new waves surging faster and higher should be of great concern.

“Some vaccine deliveries to African countries are expected in August. This is welcomed, but nowhere near the quantities needed. Besides, countries need programmatic support to effectively vaccinate their communities, especially health care workers,” said Dr Kenyon.

“This global imbalance in access to vaccines is leading to unnecessary deaths, and low-income countries are bearing the brunt.”

He said since March 2021, Project HOPE has conducted several COVID-19 Vaccination Trainings in partnership with the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Brown University’s Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies, to train health care workers in using COVID-19 vaccines and address questions and concerns from patients and communities.

Parts of the trainings have also focused on tackling vaccine hesitancy, including among health care workers, and showed positive results.

Project HOPE has supported the Africa CDC by delivering two types of trainings to health care workers and frontline COVID-19 responders in over 30 African countries.

“We’ve trained a thousand trainers across Africa through this partnership, but unfortunately the support for these trainers to educate their communities on COVID-19 vaccines hasn’t yet materialized. I’m concerned that time is running out,” said Dr Kenyon.

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