ADDIS ABEBA – More than 600 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in 34 countries in Africa as of 19 March, compared with 147 cases one week ago, World Health Organization (WHO) said.
Although the region has seen a significant increase in confirmed cases recently, there are still fewer cases than in other parts of the world.
“The rapid evolution of COVID-19 in Africa is deeply worrisome and a clear signal for action,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“But we can still change the course of this pandemic. Governments must draw on all of their resources and capabilities and strengthen their response,” she said.
– Evolving –
Twelve countries in the continent are now experiencing local transmission.
It is crucial that governments prevent local transmission from evolving into a worst case scenario of widespread sustained community transmission, according to WHO.
Such a scenario will present a major challenge to countries with weak health systems.
“Africa can learn from the experiences of other countries which have seen a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases through rapidly scaling up testing, isolating cases and meticulously tracking contacts,” said Dr. Moeti.
Understanding how the COVID-19 pandemic will evolve in Africa is still a work in progress, health experts say.
– Group’s at risk –
They also claim the response will need to be adapted to the African context as the demographics on the continent are very different from China, Europe and the U.S.
Africa has the world’s youngest population and it appears that older people are more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Preliminary analysis finds that people with underlying conditions are at higher risk. This group of people includes nearly 26 million African who are living with HIV as well as 58 million children who have stunted growth due to malnutrition.
It is, therefore, “possible that younger people will be more at risk in Africa than in other parts of the world,” says the UN health agency.
Currently, most infections in the continent involve people who have recently been in Europe or other disease hot spots, despite the number internal transmission cases are increasing.
Tedros Adhanom, the director general of the WHO, has warned that official numbers may underestimate the extent of the spread of the disease.
“Probably we have undetected cases or unreported cases,” he said. “In other countries we have seen how the virus actually accelerates after a certain tipping point, so the best advice for Africa is to prepare for the worst and prepare today.”