As new cases of Covid-19 around the world continue to rise at a rapid pace, the rate of infection in Africa shows a slower rate of increase, but there can be no room for complacency, warns the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Preliminary analysis by the world body, shows that unlike in other parts of the world, where there are exponential surges which then peak two to three weeks later, the virus in Africa seems to move at a different, slower rate. Many countries are seeing a more gradual rise, with no discernible peak.
“In Africa, curbing Covid-19 is a marathon, and not a sprint” says WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti. She however cautions that more needs to be done to take whatever advantage the slower rate of infection offers, with the virus also steadily moving from densely populated urban areas, into rural communities.
“We are observing multiple local outbreaks, each with their own infection patterns and peaks. It is by bolstering the response at community level, that we will win the race. The Covid-19 response must be integrated into the fabric of every health district.”
It is not yet entirely clear why the virus is moving differently on the African continent compared to elsewhere in the world Part of the explanation, according to WHO’s analysis, may be the relative youth of the continent’s populations.
“For now Covid-19 has made a soft landfall in Africa, and the continent has been spared the high numbers of deaths which have devasted other regions of the world” Dr Moeti said in May, “it is possible our youth dividend is paying off and leading to fewer deaths” but she warned then, “we must not be lulled into complacency as our health systems are fragile and are less able to cope with a sudden increase in cases.”
Older people have a significantly increased risk of dying from Covid-19. In Europe, 95% of deaths were among people older than 60 years.
Africa is demographically, the youngest continent, with more than 60% of the population, under twenty-five.
Fears that with fragile healthcare systems in many, if not most countries, Africa faced a real possibility being of overwhelmed, as rates of infection rose may not have born out, but they remain justified.
Many countries have however performed much better than anticipated, with some, like Rwanda and Tunisia, among the best performers in the world.
Preventive measures like lockdown, social or physical distancing, frequent hand washing, all have made a difference to the rate of transmission.
And there are improvements within the healthcare systems. Not all countries could properly diagnose Covid-19, at the beginning of the epidemic, with all that the dangers that entailed. Now all countries can, with more than ten performing at least 100 tests, per 10,000 people.
Production of oxygen for patients requiring respirators has increased, with the number of oxygen plants in the region rising from a very low sixty-eight, to a more respectable 119. The number of oxygen concentrators has more than doubled to at least 6,000.
While welcoming this progress however, WHO continues to warn that it is not enough, and more still needs to be done. Most countries especially need to improve services at the local level. With the loosening of movements, the continent is certain to see infection rates in remote areas which up until now had remained relatively untouched.
“Not only must we keep up with evolving trends” said Dr Moeti, “we must also anticipate, predict and act faster to head off potentially disastrous outcomes. Areas of high transmission as well as localities with relatively fewer infections, both deserve attention. In short we must be strong on all fronts.”
According to WHO, by 10.24am Central European Summer Time (CEST), 22nd August, there have been 22,767,009 confirmed cases of Covid1-19 globally, including 794,435 deaths. 984,140 confirmed cases are in Africa.