The healthcare system in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, is being overwhelmed by a massive wave of infections driven by the Delta variant, winter in the southern hemisphere and a faltering vaccine campaign.
The new variant is now dominant in Africa’s most developed country, where the official death toll is now more than 60,000, although excess mortality statistics suggest more than 170,000. may have died of Covid.
Across Africa, the Delta variant is fueling an aggressive third wave of infections, with the number of cases increasing faster than all previous peaks, according to the World Health Organization.
WHO experts warned last week that infections in Africa have risen for six consecutive weeks, up 25% last week, reaching 202,000 positive cases. South Africa accounted for more than half of African cases last week, although it is one of the few countries where testing is extensive. On July 1 alone, more than 21,000 cases were registered.
South African authorities have been unable to stop the spread of the new variant, only taking steps to impose new restrictions after a massive wave of infections devastated the economic heart of the country.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said last week that the country’s health system was “collapsing” when he imposed a two-week ban on all gatherings, indoors and outdoors, along with the sale of alcohol and travel to or from the areas. most affected in the country. like Gauteng, its most populous and economically productive province. An extended curfew was also imposed and schools closed early for the holidays.
“We have overcome two decisive waves but now we have a new hill to climb, a great challenge, a massive resurgence of infections … a devastating wave,” he said.
Anger and frustration have risen after repeated promises to speed up the faltering vaccination campaign were broken. Only three million hits have been delivered to a population of 60 million. Acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said delivery of vaccines will accelerate in the coming weeks, and everyone over 50, as well as police, teachers and soldiers, will be targeted.
However, a series of corruption scandals related to Covid spending has undermined confidence in the government. The Health Minister has been suspended pending an investigation into the corruption allegations.
The increase in infections has exposed the weakness of the public health services, with overflowing hospitals and oxygen shortages, but above all a lack of trained personnel. The highly publicized arrival of military physicians has been described by health professionals as “a very late fall into a very large ocean.”
Last Thursday, the South African Medical Association threatened to take the government to court because dozens of new young doctors cannot find positions despite staff shortages.
The vaccination campaign has stopped on weekends and holidays to rest health workers, but also because there is no budget for overtime, authorities admitted.
In many parts of the country, voluntary organizations are filling gaps. Some patients in Johannesburg who have not been able to find a bed in a public room are being treated in a makeshift Covid room set up by a Muslim charity in the city.
“We don’t see dead people. Funeral services see dead. We see death. That is the difference. We see death happening. We try to get to patients on time, but unfortunately we can’t always do that, ”said Anees Kara, a volunteer doctor.
Studies of blood donors released on Friday have revealed that nearly half the population may have already been infected with the virus, although the third wave appears to be the worst yet.
The WHO has said that the speed and scale of Africa’s third wave are unprecedented.
“The rampant spread of more contagious variants takes the threat to Africa to a whole new level. More transmission means more serious diseases and more deaths, so everyone must act now and push for prevention measures to prevent an emergency from turning into a tragedy, ”said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Eight vaccines have been approved for the WHO emergency use list, but shipments to Africa have, in fact, dried up. “While supply challenges continue, the shared dose may help close the gap. We are grateful on the promises made by our international partners, but we need urgent action on allocations. Africa must not be allowed to languish amid its worst wave yet, “said Moeti.
Only 15 million people, 1.2% of the African population, are fully vaccinated.