Africa Struggles Against Second Wave of COVID-19 Amongst New Ebola Surge
Africa’s COVID-19 death toll has exceeded 100,000 as a second wave of cases continues to sweep over the continent, reports Reuters. Additionally, Guinea reported a sudden growth in the number of cases of the Ebola virus on February 14, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
BBC News reports that the second wave of the pandemic hit 40 African countries, overwhelming all of the countries in the southern Africa region, particularly South Africa. While daily cases in the country are falling, they initially rose to the point that the rapid decline has contributed to an 18 percent fall of new cases this month throughout the rest of the continent, which has seen a 40 percent increase in deaths from December to January. A new variant of the virus appeared in South Africa at the end of last year, causing an increase in the number of cases in the region. Bloomberg reports that the South African mutation, B.1.351, was first recorded in Zambia, leading to an increase from 44 cases at the start of December to 700 cases at the start of January. This variant has spread through the African continent and at least 24 countries outside of Africa.
WHO is concerned about irregular testing levels throughout Africa since some countries have reduced their testing procedures, while others have either maintained or increased their testing rates throughout the pandemic. South Africa has conducted the most tests per capita, while Nigeria has conducted the fewest. Meanwhile, some countries, such as Tanzania, have stopped releasing data, with President John Magufuli rejecting the virus’ presence altogether, continues BBC News. The Associated Press reports that the continent of 1.3 billion people has seen very little supply of COVID-19 vaccines. If current supplies last, Africa could vaccine 35 to 40 percent of its population by the end of this year, and 60 percent by the end of 2022. The African Union acquired 270 million doses from AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, and has also been offered 300 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia.
On top of increasing COVID-19 cases, Guinea declared a new Ebola epidemic in the country after the deaths of at least three people, writes BBC News. WHO reported the index case of the virus was a Gouécké nurse who reported symptoms including headaches, physical weakness, and vomiting; she was originally diagnosed with typhoid and then malaria following a second consultation. She died on January 28, five days after her initial diagnosis.
Reuters reports that Guinea has had ten suspected cases of Ebola and five deaths. Following the outbreak announcement on February 14, the country has identified 115 contacts of the confirmed cases in the city of Nzerekore and ten in Conakry, the country’s capital. The Republic of Congo also reported four new Ebola cases, though unrelated to Guinea’s situation – the recent uptick is a resurgence of its tenth outbreak during 2018-2020. The Washington Post writes that the Ebola virus was responsible for killing 11,000 people in the western Africa region and the surrounding area from 2013 to 2016. Health centers in the country are already spread thin handling the coronavirus pandemic as well as yellow fever and measles outbreaks. The newest epidemic has resurfaced where it last appeared, near Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Ivory Coast.
Sakob Keita, the head of the National Health Security Agency, remained optimistic despite the epidemic declaration, predicting that the country could contain the virus within six weeks. One physician from Conakry explained they were “not panicking,” prepared with the lessons from the previous outbreak. The western African region has the most Ebola experts in the world, with Guinea expected to receive 11,000 Ebola vaccines from Geneva and 8,600 from the United States, according to Reuters.
At the same time, there is “a systematic shortage of healthcare workers” in the region due to poor training and pay, according to another Conakry physician, Amer Sattar. The Washington Post continues that following the previous Ebola outbreak in 2014-2016, Guinea’s government promised to recruit more health-care workers and boost salaries, with health spending increasing from an allotment of four to eight percent of the national budget. However, a study by the journal, Human Resources for Health, found that many recruits were sent from the city to rural areas and were unprepared for the difference, causing defection rates of 41 percent.