Healthcare systems across Africa are “far from ready” to cope with a fresh surge of coronavirus infections, with vaccine deliveries at a near standstill and cases surging in many countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

“Many African hospitals and clinics are still far from ready to cope with a huge rise in critically ill patients,” WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said on Thursday.

“The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising,” she added in a virtual briefing.

Africa has officially registered more than 4.8 million cases and 130,000 deaths, according to the WHO, representing 2.9 percent of global cases and 3.7 percent of deaths.

According to a survey conducted by the WHO in May, the essential health facilities and personnel required to manage critically ill COVID-19 patients are grossly inadequate in many African countries.

Of 23 countries surveyed, most had less than one intensive care unit bed per 100,000 population and only one-third had mechanical ventilators. In comparison, countries like Germany and the United States have more than 25 beds per 100,000 people.

“Treatment is the last line of defence against this virus and we cannot let it be breached,” Moeti stressed, calling for better equipment for hospitals and medical staff.

Rising cases

In recent weeks, the continent has seen a rise in infections. South Africa, officially the most affected African country, has tightened health restrictions and now has more than 1.6 million cases and 56,439 deaths.

In the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kinshasa, the WHO detected an “exponential rise” last month in cases that mirrored a “clear deterioration” in the wider province.

The DRC Health Minister Jean-Jacques Mbungani said that the country was experiencing a new wave of infections.

“I officially announce the onset of the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in our country, with Kinshasa as its epicentre,” Mbungani told reporters.

A low vaccination rate and haphazard observance of recommended hygiene practices were among the reasons for the rising infection rate, he said….

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