GENEVA - The World Health Organization reports a significant drop in the number of new cases of COVID-19 in Africa for the first time since the omicron variant began widely circulating on the continent two months ago.
The coronavirus pandemic has infected nearly 10.5 million people in Africa and killed more than 234,000. World Health Organization officials say the latest figures reflect a 20 percent drop in coronavirus cases in the week up to January 16, and an 8 percent dip in deaths.
While the fourth omicron-fueled wave appears to have peaked, WHO regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti says the continent is not yet out of the pandemic woods. She says further monitoring is needed to determine whether the trend will be sustained.
"However, while four sub-regions reported a fall in new cases, we are closely monitoring the situation in North Africa, where cases spiked by 55 percent, and Tunisia and Morocco have both seen an exponential increase, overtaking South Africa as the countries with the most cases on the continent,' said Moeti.
The highly transmissible omicron variant triggered a sharp surge in the number of cases. But the severity of disease appears to be milder than that of previous strains. Nevertheless, Moeti says the continent has not yet turned the tide on the pandemic. She says there is no room for complacency.
She warns further pandemic waves are inevitable as long as the virus continues to circulate. She notes Africa remains particularly vulnerable because of its unequal access to life-saving vaccines. She says Africa faces similar impediments in gaining access to a full range of COVID-19 treatments.
The WHO has approved 11 therapeutics that can be used to treat COVID-19. It currently is reviewing the data on two oral antivirals, which have shown promising results in reducing the risk of hospitalization in some patients.
WHO regional director Moeti says she fears Africa once again may lose out in gaining access to those treatments because of their limited availability and high cost. For example, she notes two effective antibody treatments cost between $550 and $1,220 for a single dose.
"The deep inequity that left Africa at the back of the queue for vaccines must not be repeated with life-saving treatment,' said Moeti. 'Universal access to diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics will pave the shortest path to the end of this pandemic."
Moeti warns nations to prepare for the appearance of other transmissible, possibly more virulent strains of the coronavirus. She says the coronavirus will continue to mutate and pose an ongoing threat to nations if the inequitable distribution of life-saving vaccines and therapeutics between rich and poor countries is maintained.