The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that Africa is facing the “steepest COVID-19 surge yet” since the pandemic began in late December 2020.
The WHO said this is attributable to the sharp rise in Africa’s cases, nothing that for the past week, the number of deaths has risen by more than 40% compared with the previous week. This is largely attributable to the newly fast-spreading and contagious Delta variant which originated from India.
“Deaths have climbed steeply for the past five weeks. This is a clear warning sign that hospitals in the most impacted countries are reaching a breaking point,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.
The BBC reports that countries such as Namibia, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia are recording new infections at an alarming rate, even though vaccination exercises have begun in these countries.
The report also said Hospital admissions in around 10 countries have increased rapidly and at least six countries are facing shortages of intensive care unit beds.
Should things remain the same, demand for medical oxygen is estimated to be 50% higher than at the same time in 2020, WHO has said.
Fatalities associated with COVID in Africa, which includes North Africa, rose to 6,273 in the week of July 5-11, compared with 4,384 in the previous week.
Research and data collection organisation, Our World in Data said just about 0.6% of Africa’s 1.3 billion population is fully vaccinated.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti of the WHO says Africa is experiencing a third wave. He has suggested that the Eid celebrations may have contributed to it.
“Be under no illusions, Africa’s third wave is absolutely not over. 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 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,” he said.
But what does a wave in a pandemic mean? And what does the third wave entail?
Epidemiologists say there’s no official definition of a wave in a pandemic, but generally, it is used to explain the rise and declining of trends of infections over a period of time.
Since the new cases often rise gradually to reach a peak before it declines slowly, it resembles the shape of a wave, they say.
“The term wave is often used to describe a period when infection or a disease rise and come down, and resurge again later after a lull period.”
Scientists say whereas annual epidemics, like influenza, may occur because of climate or patterns of social mixing – often driven by the school year or people staying inside more during the winter – the coronavirus “wave” implies the natural pattern of peaks and valleys, though there may be lull periods.
Ghana witnessed its second wave in January 2021, after an election in December. Many believe the elections which saw Ghanaians pay little or no attention to the much-publicized COVID-19 protocols while the politicians canvassed for votes accounted for it.
The second wave was characterized by increasing cases of the COVID-19 and hospitilisation of patients. This was followed by an intense media campaign for people to adhere to the protocols and occasional security interventions to penalize those who failed to obey them. A few months later, there was a drastic drop in the number of cases bringing to an end the second wave.
However, currently, the Reuters coronavirus world tracker map reports that the average number of new infections reported each day in Ghana rises by more than 180 over the last 3 weeks, comparing to 19% of the previous peak.
‘The country is set to be recording 244 new infections on average each day. That’s 31% of the peak,” Reuters reported.
In sum, there are 5 infections per 100,000 people reported last in the last 7 days, Reuters said.
But what have we learnt as a cause of a wave in this coronavirus pandemic?
Testing and tracing of contacts have reduced drastically in Ghana. This is accompanied by mega funerals, weddings and other social gatherings with no adherence to the COVID-19 protocols. These have resulted in many assuming losing sights of the pandemic.
Deputy General Secretary of the Ghana Medical Association, Dr Justice Yankson, in an interview with the media said there is potentially a third wave as intensive care unit (ICU) beds are almost finishing across the country.
“If you look at what is happening, our general numbers are also going up, and there are hotspots all over the place, not just in Accra, Ashanti Region and other regions as well. So clearly, this could be the beginning of potentially another third wave,” Yankson said.
“But in terms of the availability of equipment, oxygen, we don’t have enough, and as it stands now, most of the critical care areas are flooded with covid-19 patience so clearly, this is just the beginning of something that we all don’t want to say. But, even at this point, we are beginning to get overstretched in these areas,” he added.
The Ghana Health Service said as of July 30, there were 86 patients with severe conditions with 17 patients in critical condition.
The active cases have moved from 2,858 as of July 19, 2021, to 6,276 as of July 30, 2021, indicating a 3,418 increment in active cases as of July 30, 2021.
Ghana’s National Case Management Coordinator for Severe and Critical covid-19 cases, Dr Christian Owoo, said the current trends of cases is not looking good.
“I can tell you about two weeks ago, the few numbers we had almost by last week started doubling in a matter of days. But we know the trajectory that we are on; it’s not sustainable if it continues on that trajectory, it does not matter how much we try to sugarcoat things because, eventually, the system will be overwhelmed not only with respect to human resources but even material resources”, he said.
Precautions for the third wave?
Practically, health experts say we must get back to observing all the protocols we had been observing since the pandemic began.
This report is produced under the project: COVID-19 Response in Africa: Together for Reliable Information being implemented with funding support from the European Union.