Deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic in the African Region are expected to decline by almost 94% in 2022 compared to 2021 which was the deadliest year of the pandemic, according to a new analysis by the World Health Organization (WHO).
This drop comes as the number of cases is expected to fall by just over 25% this year.
The analysis, published this week in the scientific journal The Lancet Global Health, shows that while the Region officially declared 113,102 deaths in 2021, around one in three deaths was not taken into account and the true number of deaths would be of 350,000. The analysis predicts about 23,000 deaths by the end of 2022 if current variants and transmission dynamics do not change. However, a 200% more lethal variant would increase the death toll to over 70,000.
Dr Moeti spoke today at a virtual press conference. She was accompanied by Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, Director General of the Center for Disease Control of Nigeria, and Dr Alioune Badara Ly, Director of the Health Emergency Operations Center of the Ministry of Health and Social Action of Senegal.
“Last year, we lost an average of 970 people a day. It is a very heavy toll,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“Our latest analysis indicates that the estimated number of deaths in the African Region will drop to around 60 per day in 2022. The low number of deaths expected this year is a great achievement for the Region and a testament to the efforts of countries and partners. However, there is still work to be done. Every time we slacken our efforts, COVID-19 resurfaces. The threat of new variants remains real and we must be prepared to face this ever-present danger. »
A significant number of cases have gone unreported. According to the findings of the study, only one in 71 cases of COVID-19 is recorded in the Region and 166.2 million infections are projected in 2022 compared to an estimated 227.5 million in 2021.
The gap between the number of cases and deaths in 2022 is due to the increase in vaccination, the improvement of the response to the pandemic and the natural immunity due to previous infections which, without preventing reinfections, protect against severe forms of illness and death.
In 2021, the African Region experienced a particularly deadly pandemic: analysis estimates that COVID-19 was the seventh leading cause of death, just behind malaria, while in 2020 the virus was the 22nd leading cause of death in the region. The significant increase in the number of deaths in 2021 was due to the Delta variant, which is more infectious and causes a more severe form of the disease.
“We learned a lot of lessons about how to stay ahead of the virus,” said Dr Moeti. “Now is the time to refine our response and identify the populations most at risk of COVID-19. Countries must step up their efforts to mount a targeted response that provides the most vulnerable people with the health services they need, including COVID-19 vaccines and effective treatments. »
As the pandemic persists, it is crucial to strengthen health services as a whole, including preventive measures, treatment and vaccination of vulnerable populations. Targeted surveillance will also be essential to monitor hospitalizations, the burden of comorbidities and the emergence of new variants.
The burden of death from COVID-19 is unevenly distributed in the African Region. High- and upper-middle-income countries and those in the Southern African Development Community have mortality rates about twice as high as low- and lower-middle-income countries in other economic regions of Africa. .
The analysis shows that the variation in the number of deaths is due to biological and physical factors, mainly comorbidities such as hypertension, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, HIV and obesity, which increase the severity and the mortality risk in patients with COVID-19. The prevalence of these comorbidities has increased in countries with higher death tolls.
The discrepancy between cases and deaths is evident in the latest wave that lasted six weeks in southern Africa, where the average of reported deaths remained at nearly 200 per week against more than 44,000 new weekly cases on average. In the past two weeks, the number of new cases has fallen after four consecutive weeks of increases across Africa, suggesting that the latest wave has peaked.