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Picture: BLOOMBERG
Picture: BLOOMBERG

The number of deaths from Covid-19 in Africa may fall 94% to 22,563 in 2022 if current variants and transmission rates remain the same, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) model.

The fall in deaths, from an estimated 350,000 in 2021, comes even though as many as 73% of people will be infected. This reflects the less lethal nature of the Omicron variant in relation to the Delta strain and the protection people have from prior infections and vaccination, the WHO said in a statement on Thursday.

The modelling exercise used data from the 47 nations included under WHO’s Africa region. While the coronavirus swept across Africa in 2020 and 2021, the fact that the continent is home to many of world’s weakest national health systems meant that most cases went undetected and the cause of death often wasn’t identified.

From the beginning of the pandemic until the end of last year, the model estimated that 505.6-million out of a population of 1.14-billion people in the region had the virus. That is, one in 71 infections were identified. Over that period, an estimated 459,000 people died of the disease, with the cause of death only attributed accurately in 35.3% of cases.

“Countries must intensify efforts towards a targeted response that provides the most vulnerable with the health services that they need, including Covid-19 vaccines and effective treatments,” Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said on a conference call.

“Targeted surveillance also remains critical to monitor hospitalisations, the burden of comorbidities, deaths and, very importantly, the emergence of new variants.”

This year there will be 166.2-million infections with many of those being reinfections, the model estimates.

Still, Africa has the lowest vaccine coverage against the virus of any continent, with just 17.1% of the population having had a full course of inoculations, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Even at the elevated level of deaths in 2021, Covid-19 was the seventh-biggest cause of mortality, just below malaria. In 2020 it was the 22nd most common cause of death.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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