Outbreaks of Cholera and diseases caused by the Ebola and Marburg viruses have pushed the number of COVID-19 deaths in West Africa to the highest it has been since the pandemic began, the World Health Organisation Africa office (WHO AFRO) has said.
COVID-19 deaths in West Africa increased by 193% from more than 340 in the previous four weeks to over 1,000 in the week ending Aug. 15. New cases of the coronavirus disease, despite dropping this week, have been surging upwards for the past eight consecutive weeks, according to WHO AFRO.
Given that West Africa’s health systems are more fragile than those in other parts of Africa — with 21% lower functionality compared to Southern Africa, for example, the organisation says the increase in deaths could be a sign that hospitals are starting to buckle under the strain of multiple public health emergencies.
“We are particularly concerned about West Africa and we can expect the pressure of COVID-19 to hit health services harder and faster,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “In addition to the strain of COVID-19, comes Ebola and other outbreaks. Fighting multiple outbreaks is a complex challenge.”
Notably, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Nigeria are experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases and all three countries are also tackling other outbreaks.
On Aug. 9, Guinea reported Marburg virus disease—which is in the same virus class as Ebola —the first case ever reported in West Africa. A total of 173 contacts have been identified and no new cases have been recorded.
Less than a week later, on Aug. 14, a case of Ebola was discovered in Côte d’Ivoire — the country’s first since 1994 — in its commercial capital Abidjan which nearly five million people call home. Six contacts have been quarantined, over 130 contacts have been listed, and no deaths have been reported as of Aug. 18, according to WHO AFRO.
The confirmed case is a Guinean national who travelled to Côte d’Ivoire from a rural area in Guinea. She is currently hospitalized in Abidjan and Guinea is working with Cote d’Ivoire to investigate the outbreak and 49 contacts have been listed in Guinea with efforts underway to make the Ebola vaccine available to them.
“These new outbreaks are a clear reminder that other health emergencies are not taking a back seat just because we are busy battling a global pandemic,” said Dr. Moeti. “We must remain alert and quick to respond so that other dangerous diseases are denied the chance to spread and cause further devastation.”
All of this comes despite an uptick in vaccine shipments from the COVAX facility to Africa so far in August 2021 — 10 million doses which is nine times higher than the same period in July. More than 1.5 million doses have also been delivered to nine countries by the African Union.
WHO AFRO says West Africa has received 29 million COVID-19 vaccines doses to date, similar to the amounts that have been received in East and Southern Africa. Unfortunately, rollout of jabs has been particularly slow in West Africa (38% administered, 2.4 doses per 100 people) compared to East and Southern Africa (76% administered, 4.8 doses per 100 people).
“While COVID-19 vaccine shipments seem to be taking off, Africa is encountering headwinds. Moves by some countries globally to introduce booster shots threaten the promise of a brighter tomorrow for Africa. As some richer countries hoard vaccines, they make a mockery of vaccine equity,” said Dr Moeti.