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Africa Surpasses 100,000 Confirmed Covid-19 Deaths

Africa has more than 100,000 confirmed Covid-19 deaths as the continent praised for its early response to the pandemic now struggles with a dangerous resurgence and medical oxygen often runs desperately short.

“We are more vulnerable than we thought,” the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told press in an interview reflecting on the pandemic and a milestone he called “remarkably painful.”

He worried that “we are beginning to normalize deaths,” while health workers are overwhelmed.

The Africa CDC on Friday said overall deaths are at 100,294.

A continent of some 1.3 billion people has barely seen the arrival of large-scale supplies of Covid-19 vaccines, but a variant of the virus dominant in South Africa is already posing a challenge to vaccination efforts.

Still, if doses are available, the continent should be able to vaccinate 35% to 40% of its population before the end of 2021 and 60% by the end of 2022, Nkengasong said.

In a significant development on Friday, an African Union-created task force said Russia has offered 300 million doses of the country’s Sputnik V vaccine, to be available in May.

The AU previously secured 270 million doses from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

Since most countries in Africa lack the means to track mortality data, it is not clear how many excess deaths have occurred across the continent since the pandemic began.

“We are definitely not counting all the deaths, especially in the second wave,” the Africa CDC’s Nkengasong told reporters last week.

While the continent is not seeing a “massive” number of deaths, he asserted that most people in Africa now know someone who has died of Covid-19. “People are dying because of a lack of basic care,” he said, citing medical oxygen as a critical need.

Deaths from Covid-19 increased by 40% in Africa in the past month compared to the previous month, the World Health Organization’s Africa chief, Matshidiso Moeti, told reporters last week. That’s more than 22,000 people dying in the past four weeks.

The increase is a “tragic warning that health workers and health systems in many countries in Africa are dangerously overstretched,” she said, and preventing severe cases and hospitalizations is crucial.

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