COVID: Is Africa on trend to follow India?

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Analysis and global perspectives in health, development, planet.

We’ve kept track, so you don’t have to.

WorldWise was offline in June, but the media monitoring didn’t stop. To catch you up, we’ve kept track with a vast collection of stories (believe me!).

This post brings you a curated digest that highlights trends, breakthroughs and other headlines that capture key developments you may have missed.

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TREND TO WATCH

Africa’s third pandemic wave

The warnings could be on the mark this time.

About a year ago there were signs that the pandemic was accelerating in Africa. Fears that Covid-19 would devastate the continent had, until then, proved to be wide of the mark. 

It continued to be spared the worst, in comparison with other regions. But the ominous predictions are picking up again, as we noted in this week’s Briefing. The alarm is being raised by the WHO and officials on the continent itself (Bloomberg + WEF + CBS). That’s unlike earlier in the pandemic, when statements from such sources were often more tentative.

At their most dramatic, the warnings suggest Africa’s third wave could be the deadliest yet, and may look like the one that devastated India not too long ago (Economist + Devex + NYT + FT). 

What’s fuelled the fear is data pointing to a surge in infections. In June, several countries recorded a 30% rise in cases over the space of a week—in Uganda there was a more serious spike—and Africa overall saw the steepest rise in cases and deaths to date (Guardian + Guardian + WHO + CNBC). 

The surge is also affecting vulnerable rural areas, where healthcare systems tend to be weak. That means not enough care for patients, and limited capacity to record an accurate picture. Several reports are documenting a shortage in medical oxygen that’s putting patients’ lives at risk (BBC + East African + NPR Goats & Soda + WSJ).

The trend is connected with new variants and a lack of vaccines—a combination that’s also breaking through COVID defences in other parts of the world. The variant worries centre on Delta, which has now been found in almost half of African states (WHO Africa + SciDev.Net + WaPo + WSJ). These versions of the virus are finding a window of vulnerability on a continent severely lacking in vaccine doses, both as a result of inequitable access and problematic rollout (NYT + WSJ + Guardian + AP). 

Unless some 20 million doses make it to the continent soon, nine out of 10 Africa countries look set to miss a target set by the WHO, to vaccinate 10% of a country’s population by September (UN News + NYT). Supplies are very low. And it doesn’t help that it’s already a large market for fake jabs

The latest warning sign: a sharp rise in deaths, by 43% in one week (Al Jazeera + VOA + UN News).


BIG SHIFT

A turning point against Big Oil?

Something remarkable happened on May 26th. 

Three strikes against three major oil companies, all in one day, which could mark a turning point in the battle against Big Oil.

In a landmark ruling, the Dutch Court ordered Shell to make emissions plans consistent with Paris Agreement targets—the first time a judge has ordered a large company to comply with Paris by cutting its emissions (Axios + WSJ + FT). Over at ExxonMobil, two ‘rebel’ climate-friendly directors managed to get appointed to the company’s board despite opposition (WaPo + Economist). And completing the trio, a vote passed at Chevron’s shareholders meeting called for a reduction in emissions from the use of its products (MSNBC + Vox).

By most accounts, including that of the Economist’s environment editor Catherine Brahic, this marks a turning point for the oil industry and the fight against climate change. Despite the expectation that Shell will appeal and find ways around it, the ruling sets a precedent for future cases

We saw some early signs of this shift last September, when Exxon was pushed out of the Dow Jones Industrial Index after nearly 100 years, something a Bloomberg report called “the start of the beginning of the end”. 

It’s an excruciatingly slow march to that end, but this is a hopeful sign of a step-change.


UNDER THE RADAR

Sri Lanka’s worst environmental disaster

The South Asian country suffered its worst environmental crisis to date in late May.

A fire on a cargo ship raged for two weeks off the island nation’s western coast, polluting its beaches with tonnes of toxic chemicals and plastic (Reuters + WaPo). The ship was transporting nitric acid, caustic soda, sodium methoxide and methane, as well as plastic pellets called nurdles. 

Pollution from the toxic cargo has spread miles from the partially sunken MV X-Press Pearl. Billions of plastic pellets have washed up around the capital Colombo and on beaches up to 75 miles to the south (WaPo + VOA). There are fears of underwater pollution, damage to sensitive ecosystems and contamination through the food web over the long-term (Mongabay + WaPo). Sri Lanka’s beaches are popular with tourists and for fishing. 

The disaster made very few headlines in international media.


BREAKTHROUGH

A strike against dengue

It’s been described as “pivotal” and “groundbreaking”.

The strategy of infecting dengue-carrying mosquitoes with Wolbachia bacteria has managed to cut cases of dengue fever by 77%, according to a study in Yogyakarta city, Indonesia (BBC + Atlantic). The bacteria compete with the virus inside the mosquito, prevent it from replicating and get in the way of how well mosquitoes can spread the disease.

Dengue is a deadly disease that affects about 400 million people each year. There’s no treatment or widely available vaccine, and preventing mosquito bites is the best defence. This means that a new strategy that makes such a dent in how well it spreads could be a big deal.


KEY HEADLINES AT A GLANCE

The Covid-19 Pandemic

OXYGEN CRISIS | Shortages in the global supply of medical oxygen are spreading across developing regions, threatening health systems with collapse - TBIJ + Guardian + CGD

PERU ON TOP | Peru has more than doubled its Covid-19 death toll following a review, making it the country with the world's highest death rate per capita - BBC + Al Jazeera + Axios

COUNTING DISABILITY | Focusing only on cases and deaths hides the pandemic’s lasting health burden on people, societies and economies - Andrew Briggs & Anna Vassall in Nature

Environment & climate

FARMERS STILL PROTEST | Farmers in India marked six months of protest against the government’s proposed changes to liberalise the sector - QZ + LAHT + Al Jazeera

WATER STRESSED | Drought is a coming global crisis: most of the world will be under water stress in the near future, leading to lower food yields and shortages - Guardian + UNDRR

ECOCIDE REDEFINED | A new definition of ecocide in a draft law is intended to prosecute environmental offences, and experts are pushing for its adoption by the International Criminal Court - Guardian

CARBON HIGH | Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have hit a 4.5 million-year high, the highest reading since reliable data could be gathered - Axios + WaPo

Humanitarian and human rights

FORCED OUT | Forced displacement reaches record-high during the pandemic: more than 82 million people were displaced by the end of 2020 - Al Jazeera + UN News

ACCESS DENIED | Millions of Ugandans have been denied vital services over digital ID cards - TRF + Guardian

LGBT+ RIGHTS IN AFRICA | Foreign donors have urged Ghana’s court to respect LGBT+ rights after it denied bail to jailed activists, as Rwanda and Malawi celebrated their first Pride parade - Reuters + Reuters + TRF + Guardian

LGBT+ RIGHTS IN LAC | Honduras has been ordered to track LGBT+ hate crimes, while a spate of killings was reported in Guatemala - TRF + TRF + Guardian

Development

VACCINES & ECONOMIES | Uneven Covid-19 vaccination rates are creating a new economic divide, as low vaccination correlates with high vulnerability and soaring infections - Economist + WaPo + Axios

RIVALLING CHINA | A dramatic rise in China’s global influence has prompted the G7 alliance to initiate an infrastructure plan in an attempt to rival it - TRF + Axios

Health

MALARIA-FREE | It’s official: China has eliminated malaria - Science + Economist + Axios + VOA

HUMAN BIRD-FLU | China has reported a human case of the H10N3 strain of bird flu, a possible first - WaPo + AP + Reuters + Axios

🎥 VISUAL | Temptation everywhere: Mexican children struggle with obesity - Reuters Wider Image


From the week’s global soundtrack 🌐


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