Africa cannot be complacent about pandemic - GulfToday

Africa cannot be complacent about pandemic


Schoolchildren wash their hands at a school in a Nigerian town.

The pandemic scenario in Africa is taking on grim proportions as each day passes.

Africa makes up about 3.3 per cent of the global total of confirmed virus cases, but this is believed to be just a fraction of the actual cases on the continent of 1.3 billion people.

The low count could be because as Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa, has said, many cases remain unrecorded in Africa, because of the lack of testing, which has focused on travellers, patients and direct contacts. Few African countries have been able to do adequate community testing to find where the disease is concentrated and at what level.

The continent of more than a billion people has been spared the worst consequences of COVID-19, with relatively lower death rates and infections seen elsewhere. Africa has recorded at least 1.8 million cases, with 43,700 deaths, according to the WHO.

However, an infectious diseases specialist said South Africa needs to double down on virus control efforts “because already many hospitals in many parts of the country are extremely stretched.”

Laboratory capacity for testing in African nations is lower than in most countries, according to WHO, calling testing volumes sub-optimal due to limited supplies of PCR test kits, which can be expensive.

To make matters worse, another new variant of the coronavirus appears to have emerged in Nigeria.

The discovery could add to new alarm in the pandemic after similar variants were announced in Britain and South Africa, leading to the swift return of international travel restrictions and other measures during a major holiday season.

A report early last year said the COVID-19 pandemic was likely to kill at least 300,000 Africans and risks pushing 29 million into extreme poverty, according to a UN body report.

The coronavirus pandemic is having a knock-on effect on other vital health services in Africa as countries are forced to redirect already stretched resources, a regional head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.

When the pandemic began only two of Africa’s 54 countries had laboratories to test for the disease. Now virtually every one of the continent’s countries can carry out the tests. Together Africa’s countries have conducted at least 25 million COVID-19 tests, with a recent increase of 3 per cent, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Increased testing is needed to help Africa locate where cases are rising and where additional medical responses are needed. And, when they become available to Africa, where vaccines should go.

Nigeria now has more than 80,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. It saw a record number of daily cases on Dec.17 with more than 1,100, and there has been a “rapid increase” in infections in the past two weeks, the Nigeria CDC said this week, citing increased travel and “minimal compliance with COVID-19 safety measures” as reasons.

The government has again imposed some virus restrictions, including limits on gatherings, and recommended closing of bars, nightclubs and similar venues.

The World Health Organisation and its partners announced in September that 120 million of the rapid tests would be made available to help Africa’s poor and middle-income countries test at levels closer to those of richer countries, which are deemed necessary to effectively fight the spread of COVID-19.

In efforts to track the level of infections in communities, countries such as South Africa and Ghana are testing for the prevalence of COVID-19 in sewage water.

Africa cannot afford to relax over the consequences of the coronavirus. As a result of holiday gatherings, African officials warn of a resurgence of COVID-19 on the continent and urge increased testing to combat it.

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