Africa 'on track' to control the coronavirus pandemic: WHO
African countries are on course to control the coronavirus and its emerging variants this year, the World Health Organization's regional head for the continent has said.
African countries have faced a number of challenges since the first outbreak of the Covid-19 virus in February 2020, including the impact of lockdowns on economies and livelihoods, and inequities in accessing vaccines.
However, the continent also saw relatively modest infection and fatality rates, with a higher number of recoveries when compared to cases reported globally, according to data from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
"Over the past two years, the African continent has gotten smarter, faster, and better at responding to each new surge in cases of Covid-19," said WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti.
"We are finally able to say that if current trends hold, there is light at the end of the tunnel. As long as we remain vigilant, and we act intensely particularly on vaccination, the continent is on track for controlling the pandemic," Moeti told a press briefing Thursday.
Africa has seen nearly 11 million Covid cases (3% of total cases reported globally) and around 242,000 Covid-related deaths (4.2% of globally reported fatalities) as of February 10, according to the Africa CDC.
The continent still lags behind other parts of the world in vaccination as only 11% of its adult population has been fully vaccinated, the WHO said in a statement Thursday.
A new phase of the pandemic
Africa has battled four waves of the highly transmissible virus. The WHO Africa office said each wave of the coronavirus had come "with higher peaks or more total new cases than the previous one."
But compared to previous waves, the fourth wave "was over in six weeks" and "represents the first time a wave's surge in cases has not led to a commensurate increase in hospitalizations and deaths," WHO stated.
Moeti, however, acknowledged that Africa's Covid infection rates could be much higher than the known figures.
"We're very much aware that our surveillance systems problems that we had on the continent, with access to testing supplies... have led to an underestimation of the cases," she said.
Moeti added that as Africa transitions into a new phase of the pandemic, the continent must strengthen its health systems so it is better prepared to manage future waves of infections.
The WHO Africa office said it was spearheading an initiative in 15 African countries to ramp up Covid testing and provide infection prevention tools such as face masks and hand gels.
The health agency also said it has, among other initiatives, increased the number of Covid laboratories in the continent from two to over 900 in two years.
Last month, the head of the Africa CDC, Dr. John Nkengasong, said he feared that Covid-19 could become endemic on the continent given the slow pace of vaccination, but warned that severe lockdowns were no longer the best way to contain the virus.