The struggle to acquire vaccines, as well as a dearth of health care resources, have left Africa poorly equipped to deal with a fresh surge in COVID cases.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday warned that the threat of a third wave of coronavirus hitting Africa is "real and rising."
A senior official from the Geneva-based UN body urged governments across the continent to "urgently" expand their facilities so that their health care systems do not become overwhelmed.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, told reporters that "many African hospitals and clinics are still far from ready for a surge in critically ill COVID-19 patients."
What is the current COVID situation in Africa?
A WHO survey carried out last month found that most African countries have less than than one intensive care unit bed per 100,000 people.
Moeti said this was a result of "long underinvestment in health systems among many other competing priorities."
African countries have officially registered more than 4.8 million cases and 130,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to the WHO.
The continent has seen a 20% increase in cases in the past two weeks. Eight countries have recorded a rise of more than 30% in the past week, according to WHO figures.
Moeti, a public health specialist and physician, said governments would need to prepare for a resurgence of the virus.
She said the WHO was trying to assist with the provision of experts and essential equipment, including oxygen concentrators, that "can be deployed quickly when needed."
What is the vaccine situation in Africa?
As some Western countries reach herd immunity -- defined as when 70% of the population are immune -- African nations are struggling to access coronavirus vaccines.
Most have been receiving doses under the UN-backed COVAX scheme from the Serum Institute of India.
But the Indian government in April banned vaccine exports to deal with its own domestic supply issues.
African countries have administered vaccine doses to 31 million people out of a population of 1.3 billion. But only 7 million of those have received both doses.
"Our priority is clear. It's crucial that we swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of COVID-19," Moeti said.
"While many countries outside Africa have now vaccinated their high-priority groups and are able to even consider vaccinating their children, African countries are unable to even follow up with second doses for high-risk groups," she added.
Moeti repeated Africa's ongoing plea that richer countries that have reached "significant vaccination coverage" now release their remaining doses.
Her call came on the same day that G7 health ministers met in Britain amid increasing calls for wealthy countries to share COVID-19 vaccines with lower-income nations.
US President Joe Biden pledged on Thursday to donate 75% of his country's unused COVID-19 vaccines to the COVAX global vaccine sharing program.
(AFP, AP, Reuters)