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Fewer COVID deaths predicted for Africa this year – WHO

COVID-19 deaths in Africa this year are anticipated to decrease by almost 94% compared with 2021, when the pandemic was at its height, predicts the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO’s regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said almost 1,000 people died daily last year and that deaths had reduced drastically this year. “Last year, an average of 970 people died every day, but our latest analysis (published in The Lancet) suggests that estimated deaths will shrink to around 60 a day this year on the continent.” He added that relaxing safety measures posed a possible danger in that a new variant could arise, reports the Weekend Argus.

The WHO said many cases went unreported. “The study’s findings infer that only one in 71 COVID-19 cases in the region are recorded and 166.2m infections are anticipated in 2022, compared with the estimated 227.5m in 2021.

“The gap in the number of cases and deaths in 2022 is due to increasing vaccination, improved pandemic response and natural immunity from previous infections, which, while not preventing re-infections, stops severe forms of the disease and deaths.

“In 2021, the African region experienced a particularly deadly pandemic, with the analysis estimating that COVID-19 was the seventh major cause of death, just below malaria, while in 2020, the virus was the 22nd major cause of deaths in the region.”

The WHO said the burden of COVID-19 deaths had been uneven across the African region. “High-income or upper-middle-income countries and those in the South African Development Community have around double the mortality rates in lower-income and lower-middle-income countries in other economic regions the continent,” it said.

The numbers of deaths were driven by biological and physical factors – primarily co-morbidities such as hypertension, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, HIV and obesity which increased the severity of the illness and the risk of mortality.

Study details

COVID-19 in the 47 countries of the WHO African region: a modelling analysis of past trends and future patterns

Joseph Waogodo Cabore, Humphrey Cyprian Karamagi, Hillary Kipchumba Kipruto, Joseph Kyalo Mungatu, James Avoka Asamani, Benson Droti, et al

Published in The Lancet on 1 June 2022


COVID-19 has affected the African region in many ways. We aimed to generate robust information on the transmission dynamics of COVID-19 in this region since the beginning of the pandemic and throughout 2022.

For each of the 47 countries of the WHO African region, we consolidated COVID-19 data from reported infections and deaths (from WHO statistics); published literature on socioecological, biophysical, and public health interventions; and immunity status and variants of concern, to build a dynamic and comprehensive picture of COVID-19 burden. The model is consolidated through a partially observed Markov decision process, with a Fourier series to produce observed patterns over time based on the SEIRD (denoting susceptible, exposed, infected, recovered, and dead) modelling framework. The model was set up to run weekly, by country, from the date the first infection was reported in each country until Dec 31, 2021. New variants were introduced into the model based on sequenced data reported by countries. The models were then extrapolated until the end of 2022 and included three scenarios based on possible new variants with varying transmissibility, severity, or immunogenicity.

Between Jan 1, 2020, and Dec 31, 2021, our model estimates the number of SARS-CoV-2 infections in the African region to be 505·6 million (95% CI 476·0–536·2), inferring that only 1·4% (one in 71) of SARS-CoV-2 infections in the region were reported. Deaths are estimated at 439 500 (95% CI 344 374–574 785), with 35·3% (one in three) of these reported as COVID-19-related deaths. Although the number of infections were similar between 2020 and 2021, 81% of the deaths were in 2021. 52·3% (95% CI 43·5–95·2) of the region's population is estimated to have some SARS-CoV-2 immunity, given vaccination coverage of 14·7% as of Dec 31, 2021. By the end of 2022, we estimate that infections will remain high, at around 166·2 million (95% CI 157·5–174·9) infections, but deaths will substantially reduce to 22 563 (14 970–38 831).

The African region is estimated to have had a similar number of COVID-19 infections to that of the rest of the world, but with fewer deaths. Our model suggests that the current approach to SARS-CoV-2 testing is missing most infections. These results are consistent with findings from representative seroprevalence studies. There is, therefore, a need for surveillance of hospitalisations, comorbidities, and the emergence of new variants of concern, and scale-up of representative seroprevalence studies, as core response strategies.


The Lancet article – COVID-19 in the 47 countries of the WHO African region: a modelling analysis of past trends and future patterns (Open access)


Weekend Argus article – WHO: 2021 Covid-19’s deadliest year, but 2022 will see 94% drop in deaths (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


WHO study finds 800m people in Africa had COVID-19


Higher COVID-19 mortality in young Africans than European and US counterparts


How COVID gave African countries the opportunity to improve public health




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