Africa ramps up monitoring of coronavirus cases after India variant
With Africa accounting for only around 2 percent of global coronavirus vaccinations, health officials on the continent are looking warily at waves of infections sweeping India and elsewhere that have stoked fears of a long tail end of the pandemic.
Current timelines for mass vaccination campaigns in most African countries run well into next year — if not further.
Confirmed cases have been rising steadily in many African countries, though quick but economically destructive restrictions on movement have clamped down surges before they’ve gotten out of control in most places.
The slow rollout has made Africa’s hunt for new variants, which tend to emerge where spread goes unchecked, more urgent.
The continent’s top health official as well as leaders at its main virus genome sequencing laboratories in Nigeria and South Africa said they were trying to avoid a crisis like the one in India.
Despite efforts to contain them, the emergence of yet more new variants in Africa is likely this year, they said, because of vaccine hoarding by wealthier nations, delivery delays and low vaccination capacity.
The number of Covid-related deaths rose by 4% across the continent in the past month, according to data by the African Centres for Disease Control (CDC).
During the first stage of the pandemic, Africa's overall fatality rate - the proportion of those with Covid who then die - was lower than elsewhere in the world.
There were a number of theories put forward as to why that might be the case, such as the relatively younger population, and possible cross-immunity from other coronaviruses.
As of this week, fewer than half a million people in Africa had been fully vaccinated, while fewer than 10 million had received a first dose, according to the World Health Organization.
Since the pandemic began, African labs have sequenced fewer than 15,000 samples compared with hundreds of thousands in some Western countries.
“Our goal is to make sure we generate 50,000 sequences by the end of the year so we can have a better picture of what’s going on in the continent,” said John Nkengasong, the director of the Africa CDC, the continent’s main health body. “I’m hoping we can expand the capacity to more countries to do it locally.”