Africa’s COVID-19 evolution different -WHO

-Difficult to determine specific infection peak in the continent

As Africa marked the sixth moth last week since the COVID-19 pandemic was first detected, the World Health Organisation says its evolution in the continent has been different to other regions of the world that the virus has affected.

Lately, many countries in Africa have been experiencing sudden surges in the cases, forcing them to re-introduce restrictions to movement in a bid to contain the local spread of the virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says its preliminary analysis has found that an exponential surge in cases which peak about two to three weeks later is not occurring in Africa, but instead, many countries are experiencing a gradual rise in COVID-19 cases and it is difficult to discern a specific peak.

“Transmission patterns also differ between countries, but more importantly within countries,” WHO said.

That being the case, South Africa on Saturday lifted lockdown restrictions on the economy as President Cyril Ramaphosa said the country, with the highest infections in Africa and at fifth spot in the world had reached its peak of infections.

The world health governing body said that COVID-19 initially capital cities in Africa but has since changed and was now moving from high density urban areas to informal settlements and then onward to rural areas that have a lower population density.

According to Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti, curbing COVID-19 in the continent is a marathon and not a sprint.

“We are observing multiple local outbreaks each with their own infection patterns and peaks. It is by bolstering the response at the community level that we will win this race. The COVID-19 response must be integrated into the fabric of every health district,” Dr Moeti said.

The analysis also found that in the past six months, countries have made a lot of progress, with many governments quick to impose lockdowns and key public health measures that helped to slow down the virus.

This has over time led to preventive, diagnostic and treatment measures being strengthened, with all countries now able to diagnose COVID-19, 14 performing over 100 tests per 10 000 population.

“Production of oxygen, critical for severely ill COVID-19 patients, has also considerably increased, with the number of oxygen plants in the region rising to 119 from 68 at the onset, while the number of oxygen concentrators has more than doubled to over 6000.”

A recent WHO assessment based on self-reporting by 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa found that the countries improved their capacity to respond to COVID-19. WHO measured countries’ readiness in a range of areas including coordination, surveillance, laboratory capacity, case management, infection prevention and control.

“Six months ago, the score was 62% and now it is 78%. While much progress appears to have been made at the national level, at the district level countries are generally lagging behind. The scores for coordination (38%), infection prevention and control (46%) and clinical care for patients (47%) are all particularly low at the district level.”   

Dr Moeti has underscored that while progress has been made, it is important that governments step up readiness and response measures, particularly at the subnational levels. With the loosening of movement restrictions, there are risks that the virus may spread even further into remote areas of the continent.

“Not only must we keep up with the evolving trends, we must also anticipate, predict and act faster to head off potentially disastrous outcomes,” said Dr Moeti. “Areas of high transmission as well as localities with relatively fewer infections both deserve attention. In short we must be strong on all fronts.”

The health body is currently supporting countries witnessing a large number of COVID-19 infections, and South Africa became the first country to receive members of a surge team from WHO.

Additional Reporting WHO

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