South Africa drops masks for children despite COVID-19 surge

By AFP

FILE PHOTO – A child wearing a face mask gets community-free food in Johannesburg, South Africa, on May 19, 2020. /Xinhua

South Africa on Thursday ended mask-wearing for school children despite a surge of infections driven by two new Omicron sub-variants of the coronavirus.

Regulations requiring all students to mask up while in class expired at midnight and were not renewed.

However, adults are still required to wear a mask in public indoor spaces, and limits on numbers attending large events remain.

South Africa has officially recorded more than 3.8 million cases and 100,407 deaths. That is the highest toll across Africa. Less than 45 percent of the adult population is fully vaccinated.

“The only way we can protect ourselves and our loved ones against this pandemic and the current rising number of positive cases is through vaccination and adhering to preventative measures at all times,” the health ministry said in a statement.

After a relative lull last month, numbers of new infections have been climbing, and on Wednesday, more than 6,100 new cases were detected.

Inbound travelers are still required to be fully vaccinated or show proof of a negative PCR test.

Indoor gatherings are limited to 1,000 people or half of the venue’s capacity, while outdoor events are capped at 2,000 people. Attendees are required to be vaccinated or provide a negative COVID-19 test.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday said that two Omicron sub-variants, BA.4 and BA.5, were behind the surge in cases in South Africa.

Tedros said it was too soon to know whether these new sub-variants can cause more severe disease than other Omicron sub-variants.

South Africa working to avert closure of vaccine-manufacturing plant

By Jerry Omondi

CFP Photo

South Africa’s health ministry is working to convince pharmaceutical firm, Aspen Pharmacare, to keep its COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing plant open

The company announced earlier this week that it is considering closing its doors because it hasn’t received any orders to produce vaccines.

The plant in South Africa is Africa’s first COVID-19 vaccine producing facility and was initially touted as a game-changer in the continent’s fight against the virus. The South African government would like to see the facility remain open to meet demand stemming from an anticipated fifth wave of the pandemic.

“We believe that through the engagement with the Aspen authorities, we will be able to persuade them to reconsider their decision or delay implementing that decision towards the anticipated 5th wave, with the number of COVID-19 cases,” SABC quotes the South Africa Health Department’s Spokesperson Foster Mohale as saying.

“We are working with the Aspen authorities so that this decision is not immediately implemented.”

Mohale’s remarks follow an announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa that he was engaged on a presidential level with other Heads of State to secure possible purchases of doses from the plant.

“It’s cause for concern that vaccines are not being procured. I have started engagements with the Presidents of Zambia, Uganda, Malawi and Kenya. We will also be engaging with the rest of the world to procure vaccines made in Africa,” he said.

African countries conduct over 105 million COVID-19 tests

By XINHUA

FILE PHOTO: A resident from the Alexandra township gets tested for COVID-19 in Johannesburg, South Africa on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. /CFP

African countries have conducted 105,579,387 COVID-19 tests so far, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said Thursday.

The Africa CDC, the specialized healthcare agency of the African Union, said in its latest weekly briefing held Thursday that 427,942 new tests were conducted during the past week.

The newly conducted tests represent a three percent decrease from the previous week when 481,760 tests were reported, it was noted.

The cumulative continental positivity rate so far stands at 11 percent, according to the agency.

According to the Africa CDC, some 36 African countries are reporting a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) higher than the global average of 1.2 percent while two countries that are Somalia and Sudan are reporting a CFR higher than 5 percent.

It said 53 African countries have experienced the third COVID-19 wave, while 37 countries have experienced a more severe third wave.

As of Wednesday evening, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa had reached 11,458,664 with 252,197 deaths and 10,818,872 recoveries, according to the agency.

In terms of the caseload, southern Africa is the most affected region, followed by the northern and eastern parts of the continent, while central Africa is the least affected region in the continent, according to the Africa CDC.

International Conference on Public Health in Africa to be held in December

By Jerry Omondi

CFP Photo

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will hold its second Annual International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA 2022) between 13-15 December, in Kigali, Rwanda focusing on the continent’s post-pandemic recovery.

Under the theme of Preparedness for future Pandemic and Post-Pandemic Recovery: Africa at a Crossroad, CPHIA 2022 will bring together African leaders, researchers, policymakers and stakeholders to share scientific findings and public health perspectives and collaborate on research, innovation and public health across the continent.

Africa, like most of the world, is still recovering from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far killed more than 252,000 people on the continent.

The CDC has been at the forefront in calling for stronger health systems to tackle future health crises, especially in lower-income countries.

The agency expects CPHIA 2022 to help further its mission to “strengthen Africa’s public health institutions’ capacities, capabilities, and partnerships to prevent, detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats based on science, evidence-based policy, and data-driven interventions and programs.”

Ahead of the December conference, CPHIA Co-Chair, Professor Senait Fisseha has called for African-led solutions to the continent’s health needs.

“The past 18 months have been full of uncertainty and hardship – especially for women and girls and other marginalized groups – but one clear message has emerged: to build a healthier and more equitable future for all Africans, we need African leadership and African-led solutions,” said Professor Fisseha, MD and Director of Global Programs at the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation.

“I am so inspired by the immense talent and expertise we already have on our continent, and in awe of the leadership of Africa CDC. Through this unique platform, we can chart a bold path forward to improve health care for all people.”

Third Ebola patient dies in northwest Democratic Republic of Congo

Reuters

A logo is pictured at the World Health Organization (WHO) building in Geneva, Switzerland, February 2, 2020. Picture taken February 2, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/

The third Ebola patient in northwest Democratic Republic of Congo has died, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, the latest fatality in an outbreak first reported last month.

The 48-year-old man was the most recent confirmed case in Congo’s 14th outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever, which has hit the city of Mbandaka, the capital of Equateur province.

Health workers started Ebola vaccinations last week and have since inoculated over 350 people, of which more than 250 were contacts, the WHO said.

The first case was reported on April 23 and a total of three deaths have been confirmed so far.

Congo has seen 13 previous outbreaks of Ebola, including one in 2018-2020 in the east that killed nearly 2,300 people, the second highest toll recorded in the disease’s history.

The last outbreak, also in the east, infected 11 people between October and December and killed six of them.

Kenyans urged to brace for a sixth COVID-19 wave

By CGTN Africa

FILE PHOTO – A nurse speaks to COVID-19 patient behind a screen inside the intensive care unit (ICU) of Machakos Level 5 Hospital, in Machakos, Kenya, on Monday, August 30, 2021. /Getty Images

Scientists in Kenya say citizens should prepare for a possible sixth wave of COVID-19.

A number of factors are blamed for the new wave, including disobeying public health protocols and guidelines, reopening of schools, political activities, and a low vaccination rate.

According to Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB) Committee Chairman, Prof Khama Rogo, the wave will start at the end of April, peak around May 17, and fade after June 2. The wave will last 40 days and will be milder than previous waves.

“The likely daily average infections will be 500 and the number of people projected to get the virus is 20,000, with total fatalities in the entire period being 349,”  said Rogo.

He urges the government to increase vaccination campaigns, especially for the elderly and those with health problems.

Kenya has a robust plan of vaccinating  27,246,033 adults from the disease by the end of 2022.  So far, Kenya has achieved 30 percent of the vaccination goal. 

Since the pandemic was reported in the country, a total of 5,649 people have died.

Story compiled with assistance from wire reports

DR Congo starts vaccinating against deadly Ebola outbreak

By AFP

FILE PHOTO – Health workers dressed in protective gear begin their shift at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, Congo DRC, July 16, 2019. /AP Photo

The Democratic Republic of Congo on Wednesday launched an Ebola vaccination campaign in response to the 14th outbreak of the deadly virus since 1976, including six since 2018.

Two people died recently in the northwestern town of Mbandaka, in the most recent outbreak, the World Health Organization’s Africa office announced.

“Over the years, with the support of WHO and other partners and donors, the country has developed homegrown expertise capable of mounting effective Ebola response,” said a statement from the UN’s health arm.

“With effective vaccines at hand and the experience of the Democratic Republic of the Congo health workers in Ebola response, we can quickly change the course of this outbreak for the better,” said WHO regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti.

Some 200 doses of the rVSV-ZEBOV Ebola vaccine have been shipped to Mbandaka, in Equator province, from the eastern city of Goma, with more doses to be delivered in the coming days.

The vaccination campaign uses the “ring strategy” where all contacts of confirmed Ebola patients and contacts of contacts are jabbed along with frontline and health workers.

The first of the two confirmed deaths concerned a young man who died in hospital on April 21.

WHO said so far 233 contacts have been identified around Mbandaka and are being monitored.

A 20-bed Ebola treatment center has also been set up in the town.

Ebola killed 55 people out of 130 registered cases at Mbandaka in 2020.

Experts say that since 2018 Ebola epidemics have become cyclical from April to June in Equator province and over the following months in the northeastern provinces of Kivu and Ituri.

Last year nine people died from Ebola out of 11 cases in North Kivu’s Beni city.

Ebola is a viral haemorrhagic fever that was first identified in central Africa in 1976. The disease was named after a river in DR Congo, then known as Zaire.

Human transmission is through body fluids, with the main symptoms being fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhoea.

Second Ebola patient dies in northwestern Congo, WHO says

By CGTN Africa

An MSF medical worker, wearing protective clothing relays patient details and updates behind a barrier to a colleague at an MSF facility in Kailahun, on August 15, 2014. /Getty Images

A second Ebola patient has died in northwest Democratic Republic of Congo, the World Health Organization announced on Tuesday, days after a fresh outbreak of the deadly disease emerged.

According to genetic testing by the WHO, the infection confirmed last week was a new “spillover event”, a transmission from an infected animal, and not linked to the last outbreak, which was declared over in December.

Speaking to Reuters, a WHO spokesperson further revealed that the second fatality was a female relative of the first case, a WHO spokesperson told Reuters.The first patient began showing symptoms on April 5, but did not seek treatment for more than a week. He was admitted to an Ebola treatment centre in Mbandaka, the capital of Congo’s Equateur province, on April 21 and died later that day

70% of Uganda’s COVID-19 patients fail to fully recover a year later

By CGTN Africa

FILE PHOTO: A health professional injects a COVID-19 vaccine into a man on March 10, 2021 in Kampala, Uganda. (Photo by Luke Dray/Getty Images via CFP)

According to Ugandan medical experts, a significant number of COVID-19 survivors are grappling with the long-term effects of the virus which has affected their productivity and quality of life.

The experts were reacting to a new report from the United Kingdom’s Leicester University which indicated that only a third of 804 COVID-19 survivors got totally healed after one year.

“The proportion of patients reporting full recovery was unchanged between five months (501 [25·5 percent] of 1965) and one year (232 [28·9 percent] of 804). Factors associated with being less likely to report full recovery at 1 year were female sex, obesity and invasive mechanical ventilation,” reads the report published April 23 in the scientific journal The Lancet.

Fatigue, aching muscle, poor sleep, breathlessness, joint pain or swelling, slowing down in thinking, general body pain, short-term memory loss, and limb weakness were the commonest symptoms that persisted in 2,320 participants discharged from the UK hospital between March 7, 2020, and April 18, 2021.

COVID-19 has so far killed 3,596 of the 164,069 it has cumulatively infected, according to Ministry of Health statistics. A total of 100,205 have recovered from the infection

Paul Kyaterekera, the president of Medical Clinical Officers Professionals Uganda, said it is hard to tell that a patient is suffering from long-term effects of COVID-19 because medical workers often don’t ask them or the patient may not be willing to disclose that information.

WHO says testing cuts leave world ‘increasingly blind’ to COVID-19 spread

By AFP

FILE PHOTO: A resident from the Alexandra township gets tested for COVID-19 in Johannesburg, South Africa on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (Photo via CFP)

A dramatic drop in testing for COVID-19 has left the world blind to the virus’s continuing rampage and its potentially dangerous mutations, the World Health Organization warned Tuesday.

The UN health agency said that reported COVID-19 cases and deaths had been dropping dramatically.

“Last week, just over 15 thousand deaths were reported to WHO — the lowest weekly total since March 2020,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.

While this is “a very welcome trend,” he warned that the declining numbers could also be a result of significant cuts in testing for the virus.

“This makes us increasingly blind to patterns of transmission and evolution,” Tedros said.

“When it comes to a deadly virus, ignorance is not bliss.”

William Rodriguez, who heads the global diagnostics alliance FIND, also decried that many governments in recent months simply stopped looking for COVID cases.

Speaking at the press conference hosted by WHO, he pointed out that in the past four months, amid surging COVID cases from the Omicron variant, “testing rates have plummeted by 70 to 90 percent worldwide.”

The plunging testing rates came despite the fact that there is now more access to accurate testing than ever before.

“We have an unprecedented ability to know what is happening,” Rodriguez pointed out.

“And yet today because testing has been the first casualty of a global decision to let down our guard, we’re becoming blind to what is happening with this virus.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has officially caused more than six million deaths since the virus first surfaced in China in late 2019, but the true toll is believed to be at least three times that high.

While many countries have been removing measures and trying to move back to a semblance of normality, the WHO stresses that the pandemic is still not over.

“This virus won’t go away just because countries stop looking for it,” Tedros said, pointing out that “it is still spreading, it is still changing, and it is still killing.”

He cautioned that “the threat of a dangerous new variant remains very real.”

“And although deaths are declining, we still don’t understand the long-term consequences of infection in those who survive.”