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Africa Steps Up Surveillance of New COVID Variants 


FILE - People wearing protective masks sit ahead of a vaccination, as South Africa rolls out the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines to the elderly at the Munsieville Care for the Aged Centre outside Johannesburg, South Africa, May 17, 2021.

The World Health Organization says genomic sequencing capability is being improved in Africa to better detect, monitor and respond to COVID-19 mutations.

Several variants of the coronavirus are circulating in African countries. The Delta variant is, by far, the most contagious and virulent. The variants have sparked flare-ups of this deadly disease. However, the Delta variant is most responsible for prolonging Africa’s third pandemic wave.

The World Health Organization says Africa’s COVID-19 third wave is now tapering off after a two-month surge, with the number of new cases decreasing by 23% last week. The World Health Organization says the case load remains extremely high, though, with more than 165,000 new weekly cases reported.

WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti says the WHO is supporting countries in scaling up pathogen surveillance through genome sequencing. She says together with the South African National Bioinformatics Institute, the WHO is launching a new Regional Center of Excellence for Genomic Surveillance in Cape Town.

“Knowing which variants are circulating and where is critical for informing effective response operations … The continent lags far behind the rest of the world when it comes to sequencing, accounting for only 1% of over 3 million COVID-19 sequences conducted worldwide. So, this ground-breaking initiative aims to initially support 14 Southern African countries to scale up their genomic sequencing by 15-fold each month,” she said.

Moeti says analysis will shed light on the pathways COVID-19 is using to spread into communities. On the vaccine front, she notes Africa still lags far behind the world’s richer nations in inoculating its inhabitants.

“In the past week, the COVAX Facility has delivered over 5 million doses to African countries. I was saddened to read that three times as many doses have been thrown away in the United States alone — 15 million doses since March 2021. This is enough vaccines to cover everyone over 18 years in Liberia, Mauritania, and the Gambia, for example,” she said.

Moeti says high-income countries have not kept their pledges to share 1 billion doses globally. So far, she says only 120 million doses have been released.

She notes only 3% of the continent’s 1.2 billion people are fully vaccinated. She says Africa has passed the sad milestone of 200,000 lives lost to the coronavirus, lives that could have been saved had they received a dose of the vaccine.

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