By Peter Kenny
Coronavirus infections are up 80% in the past four weeks in five of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) six regions, the head of the UN’s health agency said Friday.
In Africa, deaths have risen 80% in that period, mainly driven by the Delta variant found in at least 132 countries.
“Almost 4 million cases were reported to the WHO last week, and on current trends, we expect the total number of cases to pass 200 million within the next two weeks. And we know that is an underestimate,” Tedros Ghebreyesus said during a webinar.
The WHO had warned that the virus continues to change with four variants of concern emerging, “and there will be more as long as the virus continues to spread,” said Tedros.
He said increased social mixing and mobility, inconsistent use of public health and social measures and inequitable vaccine use are also driving the increase.
– Hard-won gains in jeopardy
“Hard-won gains are in jeopardy of being lost and health systems in many countries are being overwhelmed,” said the chief of the WHO.
The climbing number of infections is creating a shortage of treatments such as life-saving oxygen and 29 countries have high and rising oxygen needs with many having inadequate supplies of essential equipment to protect frontline health workers.
Testing rates in low-income countries are less than 2% of those in high-income countries and that is “leaving the world blind to understanding where the disease is and how it’s changing,” he said.
Tedros stressed that the world could not fight the disease without better global testing rates or mitigate the risk of new, more dangerous variants emerging.
The WHO’s goal remains to support every country to vaccinate at least 10% of its population by October.
The UN agency wants jabs for at least 40% of the world by the year’s end and 70% by the middle of next year, said Tedros, but he acknowledged that those targets are “a long way off.”
A little more than half of countries have fully vaccinated 10% of their populations, less than a quarter have vaccinated 40% and only three nations have vaccinated 70%.
– ‘Vaccine nationalism’
Tedros said almost one year ago the WHO raised concerns about “vaccine nationalism.”
He reiterated a WHO statement in January that the world was on the verge of a “catastrophic moral failure” and still “the global distribution of vaccines remains unjust,” putting all regions at risk, especially Africa.
“On current trends, nearly 70% of African countries will not reach the 10% vaccination target by the end of September,” he said.
Around 3.5 million to 4 million doses are administered weekly on the continent but to meet its September target, it must rise to 21 million doses at the very least each week.
“Many African countries have prepared well to roll out vaccines, but the vaccines have not arrived,” said Tedros.
Less than 2% of all doses administered globally have been in Africa. Just 1.5% of the continent’s population is fully vaccinated.
This is a severe problem “if we’re going to take action against this pandemic and end it,” he said.
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