CONGO – West Africa has recorded its highest number of COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began as several countries grapple with outbreaks of cholera, Ebola Virus Disease and Marburg Virus Disease that threaten to further strain the already stretched emergency response capacity in the region.
COVID-19 fatalities in West Africa over the past four weeks increased by 193% from 348 in the previous four weeks to 1018 in the past week even though the case fatality ratio stands at 1.4%—below the continental average of 2.5%.
While new cases in West Africa have dropped this week, they have been surging for eight consecutive weeks.
Overall Africa recorded over 244,000 new cases this past week, an 11% drop from the week before and a second straight week of declining cases.
However, nine out of 23 countries experiencing a resurgence are in West Africa. Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and Nigeria are experiencing a surge in cases and all three countries are tackling other outbreaks.
West Africa health systems are even more fragile than those in other sub-regions. A World Health Organization (WHO) assessment of the functionality of health systems in West Africa found that they were 21% lower than in Southern Africa.
“In addition to the strain of COVID-19, comes Ebola and other outbreaks. Fighting multiple outbreaks is a complex challenge, we can expect the pressure of COVID-19 to hit health services harder and faster,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said.
To date, West Africa has received about 29 million vaccine doses. However, the rollout has been slow, with 38% of the doses administered compared with 76% in East and Southern Africa and 95% in North Africa.
West Africa has delivered 2.4 doses per 100 people. In East and Southern Africa, the figure stands at 4.8 doses per 100 people.
Vaccine shipments to Africa have picked up with the COVAX Facility delivering almost 10 million doses to Africa so far in August.
The African Union has so far delivered 1.5 million doses to nine countries. Since June, the number of doses administered per 100 people in sub-Saharan Africa has almost tripled form 1.2 per 100 people to 3.4 per 100 people.
These other disease outbreaks are threatening West Africa’s ability to combat the COVID-19 pandemic as well as compromising healthcare delivery to citizens.
Cote d’Ivoire declared an outbreak of Ebola on 14 August, the country’s first since 1994, in the commercial capital of Abidjan, home to nearly 5 million people.
As of 18 August, there was one confirmed case and three suspected cases that later tested negative. Six high-risk contacts have been quarantined and 131 contacts listed. No deaths have been reported.
Guinea is collaborating with Cote d’Ivoire on the investigation into the outbreak. As of 18 August, 49 contacts have been listed in Guinea and health authorities are preparing to vaccinate high-risk contacts.
“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. We must remain alert and quick to respond so that other dangerous diseases are denied the chance to spread and cause further devastation,” said Dr Moeti.
On 9 August, Guinea detected a case of Marburg virus disease, which is in the same family as Ebola. No new cases have since been recorded. A total of 173 contacts have been identified.
The Marburg virus, the first such outbreak in West Africa, was detected in a locality in southern Guinea close to the border with Liberia and Sierra Leone.
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