Africa reaches 100,000 known COVID-19 deaths as danger grows

NAIROBI, KENYA (AP) — Africa has surpassed 100,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 as the continent praised for its early response to the pandemic now struggles with a dangerous resurgence and medical oxygen often runs desperately short.

“We are more vulnerable than we thought,” the Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), John Nkengasong, told The Associated Press (AP) in an interview reflecting on the pandemic and a milestone he called “remarkably painful”.

He worried that “we are beginning to normalise deaths”, while health workers are overwhelmed.

The 54-nation continent of some 1.3 billion people has barely seen the arrival of large-scale supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, but a variant of the virus dominant in South Africa is already posing a challenge to vaccination efforts. Still, if doses are available, the continent should be able to vaccinate 35 per cent to 40 per cent of its population before the end of 2021 and 60 per cent by the end of 2022, Nkengasong said.

Health officials who breathed a sigh of relief last year when African countries did not see a huge number of COVID-19 deaths are now reporting a jump in fatalities. The Africa CDC yesterday said overall deaths are at 100,294.

Deaths from COVID-19 increased by 40 per cent in Africa in the past month compared to the previous month, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Africa Chief Matshidiso Moeti told reporters last week. That’s more than 22,000 people dying in the past four weeks.

The increase is a “tragic warning that health workers and health systems in many countries in Africa are dangerously overstretched”, she said, and preventing severe cases and hospitalisations is crucial.

Relatives grieve for Soweto coffee shop manager Benedict Somi Vilakasi, who died of COVID-19 at the Nasrec Memorial Park. PHOTO: AP