Confirmed coronavirus infections have jumped across much of the world and deaths from the disease in Africa have increased by 80% in the past four weeks, the director-general of the World Health Organization said on Friday.
The continued spread of the virus and its variants, and its disparate impact on poorer countries with lower vaccination rates, reflects a global failure, said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“The pandemic will end when the world chooses to end it,” he told a press conference. “It’s in our hands. We have all the tools we need. We can prevent this disease, we can test it and treat it. “
Dr Tedros said nearly four million new infections were reported to WHO over the past week, and the organization expected the world to exceed 200 million known cases in the two next weeks. However, the totals are underestimated, as countries often underestimate cases – sometimes with very large margins. It is assumed that the known world death toll of around 4.2 million is also skewed.
The global spread of the virus is now largely due to the highly transmissible Delta variant and exacerbated by inconsistent use of public health measures, increased social mix and mobility, and inequitable use of vaccines and other treatments, said Dr Tedros .
“Hard-earned gains are threatened or lost, and the health systems of many countries are overwhelmed,” he said.
Things are still not as bad as they were not so long ago; more than 500,000 new cases are recorded daily, compared to more than 800,000 three months ago, according to data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
Vaccines remain powerfully effective against serious illness and death, but some heavily vaccinated countries have recently seen a sharp increase in the number of cases in recent days. A report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that fully vaccinated people with “breakthrough” Delta variant infections, while still considered relatively rare, can pass the virus to others as easily as unvaccinated people.
Immunization rates vary widely, from over 80% of adults in some countries to less than 1% in some of the world’s poorest countries, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.
And even with increased vaccine production and more generous donations to Covax, a vaccine-sharing initiative, it would be difficult to meet the needs of low-income countries with large unvaccinated populations, Dr Tedros said.
He cited Africa, where cases soared in July and where less than 1.5% of the continent’s population is fully vaccinated, as a particularly stark example of the problem.
“Many African countries have prepared well to deploy vaccines, but the vaccines have not arrived,” said Dr Tedros, calling for a donation of $ 7.7 billion to a partnership for testing, treatment and vaccines, as well as additional funding for Covax.