COVID-19 deaths in African region to fall by nearly 94% in 2022: WHO analysis

COVID-19 deaths in the African region are expected to decline by almost 94% in 2022, compared with 2021 which was the pandemic’s most lethal year, a new modeling by World Health Organization (WHO) finds. This comes while cases are estimated to drop by a little over a quarter this year.

The analysis, which was published this week in the scientific journal, the Lancet Global Health, finds that while the region reported 113,102 deaths in 2021 through official channels, about one in three deaths were missed and the true number of deaths was 350,000. The modeling suggests that around 23,000 deaths are expected by the end of 2022 if current variants and transmission dynamics remain constant.

“Last year, we lost an average of 970 people every day. This is a catastrophically high toll,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“Our latest analysis suggests that estimated deaths in the African region will shrink to around 60 a day in 2022. The low number of deaths expected this year is a huge achievement for the region and a testament to the efforts of countries and partners. However, the job is not yet done.”

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 significant increase in deaths in 2021 was due to the delta variant which was more infectious and caused more severe disease.

“We have learned many lessons on how to stay a step ahead of the virus,” said Dr. Moeti. “Now is the time to refine our response and identify populations most at-risk of COVID-19. Countries must intensify efforts to conduct a targeted response that provides the most vulnerable people with the health services they need, including COVID-19 vaccines and effective treatment.”

The burden of COVID-19 deaths has 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 of Africa.

The analysis shows that the variation in the number of deaths were driven by biological and physical factors, primarily comorbidities such as hypertension, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, HIV and obesity which increase the severity and the risk of mortality in COVID-19 patients. The prevalence of these comorbidities increased in countries with higher death tolls.