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WHO raises the alarm as COVID-19 cases surge, 18 die in one day

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The World Health Organisation says Nigeria is one of the countries witnessing a spike in infections in Africa.

This is just as the country witnessed 18 COVID-19-related deaths on Thursday.

The Regional Director, WHO Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said this during a media conference with African journalists on Thursday.

Other countries listed by the WHO include South Africa, Uganda and Namibia.

Moeti said, “On the African continent, there have now been more than 4.8 million COVID-19 cases and 131,000 people died sadly. In the past week, 74,000 new cases have been reported, an increase of nine per cent over the previous week.

“We are seeing rising cases in South Africa and in countries like Uganda and Namibia, and cases have increased abruptly in eight countries, including Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Nigeria in the past seven days. We’ve seen how COVID-19 can quickly overwhelm health systems that are not equipped to manage a surge in cases. So, critical care capacities remain vitally important.”

Moeti said amid the shortage of vaccines, African nations would need to strengthen preparedness for a third wave.

The WHO director stated that a survey carried out in May found that in many African countries, crucial equipment and the health workforce required to handle severely ill COVID-19 patients fall far short of needs.

“Of the 23 countries responding to the survey, most have fewer than one intensive care unit bed per 100,000 population and will require an increase of between 2,500 per cent and 3,000 per cent to meet needs during a surge. Among the countries providing information on ventilators, only a third of their intensive care unit beds are equipped with mechanical ventilators,” Moeti said.

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The WHO director said this was at variance with high-income countries such as Germany, Luxembourg or the United States that had been able to cope with COVID-19 surges and had over 25 beds per 100,000 population.

Moeti noted that Africa had only been able to receive two per cent of all doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, which had affected the continent’s preparedness.

“The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising. Our priority is clear – it’s crucial that we swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of COVID-19. While many countries outside Africa have now vaccinated their high-priority groups and are able to even consider vaccinating their children, African countries are unable to even follow up with second doses for high-risk groups,” she said.

Altogether, 48.6 million doses have been received and 31.4 million doses have been administered in 50 countries in Africa, where around two per cent of the population have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while globally 24 per cent have been vaccinated.

Moeti called on African nations and development partners to distribute masks free of charge to those who cannot afford them.

“I would like to request government partners to provide support to people who can’t actually afford to buy a mask or even have a mask made to have the masks distributed to them for free because that will help people as well,” she said.

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Meanwhile, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control says 18 people died in Nigeria on Thursday due to COVID-19 complications.

The NCDC said this on its website on Friday.

“On June 3, 2021, 122 new confirmed cases and 18 deaths were recorded in Nigeria. To date, 166,682 cases have been confirmed, 162,521 cases have been discharged and 2,117 deaths have been recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. The 122 new cases reported from nine states are: Lagos (105), Imo (4), Kaduna (4), Akwa Ibom (3), FCT (2), Delta (1), Rivers (1), Oyo (1) and Ekiti (1).”

According to the NCDC, just about one out of every 100 test samples comes back positive.

However, experts have argued that Nigeria’s testing rate is very low as only 2.1 million samples have been tested in the last 15 months.

Risk of COVID-19 surge threatens Africa’s health facilities

Amid the risk of a surge in COVID-19 cases, Moeti said African countries must urgently boost critical care capacity to prevent health facilities from being overwhelmed.

Moeti, in a statement, noted that this comes as vaccine shipments to the continent grind to a near halt.

She said, “Weak observance of preventive measures, increased population movement and interaction, as well as the arrival of winter in southern Africa have heightened the risk of COVID-19 resurgence in many countries.

“The increase comes as COVID-19 vaccine shipments continue to slow down. Burkina Faso this week received just 115,000 doses from the COVAX facility, while Rwanda and Togo each received around 100,000 Pfizer vaccine doses. Nearly 20 African countries have used up more than two-thirds of their doses.”

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Moeti said the COVAX facility was in talks with several manufacturers, as well as with countries that had vaccinated their high-risk groups, to share doses.

“Many African hospitals and clinics are still far from ready to cope with a huge rise in critically ill patients. We must better equip our hospitals and medical staff to avert the worst effects of a runaway surge. Treatment is the last line of defence against this virus and we cannot let it be breached,” she said.

Moeti said the WHO had deployed 21 experts in COVID-19 treatment to eight countries to assist in the clinical care of critically ill patients and share expertise with national health workers.

Edo intensifies second dose vaccination

In a related development, the Edo State Government said it had intensified the vaccination of eligible persons in the state with the second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine as part of efforts to contain the pandemic and ensure the safety of citizens.

The state’s COVID-19 Incident Manager, Dr Andrew Obi, who disclosed this to journalists in Benin City, said the state had opened several vaccination posts across all wards and local councils in the state to ensure that every eligible person was inoculated.

Obi said the second dose vaccination exercise, which commenced on June 1, would last for 40 days, urging those who took the first dose to make themselves available for the booster dose meant to provide full protection against the virus.

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