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COVID-19: Nearly a million infected in Africa

Six months after Egypt reported Africa’s first confirmed case of coronavirus on February 14, about 996,018 people across the continent have been infected and over 21,000 have died, data from the African Center for Disease Control has revealed.


Meanwhile, over 670, 000 have recovered from the virus in the continent.


The latest statistics indicate no sign of the disease slowing down in the continent of over a billion people.


The virus has spread to all 54 countries in Africa, stretching already fragile healthcare systems and crippling economies.


South Africa, which accounts for more than half of the continent’s registered cases, is now the fifth worst-hit globally.


Egypt is in second place over 95,000 confirmed infections while Nigeria is third with more than 45, 000 cases.


They are closely followed by Ghana, Algeria, Morocco and Kenya with 39,642, 33,626, 29,644 and 24,411 infections respectively.


Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised an alarm on the “acceleration” of the disease in Africa, which until recently had remained relatively unscathed by the pandemic compared with the rest of the world – even though health experts believe official data almost certainly under-reports both infections and deaths, particularly in countries with limited testing capacity.


Under Testing

Despite the uptick of community transmission in Africa, the continent has lagged in testing people who showed symptoms of the disease.


Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has tested a little over 300, 000 of its over 200 million population and found more than 45,000 infections leading to 930 deaths.


On April 28, the Nigerian government announced its target of testing at least two million people within the next three months.


The ambitious 90 days’ target elapsed about a week ago, but Nigeria failed to cover even 30 per cent of the two million.


In South Africa, which has a population of 58 million people, some three million people have been tested so far, the highest for an African nation.


Egypt has tested about 135,000 of its over 100 million population while Ghana has screened more than 405,000 of its 31 million people, the highest for a West African nation.


Morocco has tested more than a million out of its over 36 million people.


Cameroon, central Africa’s worst-affected country with over 17,000 cases, has tested less than one per cent of its population of 25 million.


Health Workers’ Ordeal

As of July 23, more than 10,000 health workers in about 40 countries across Africa have been infected, according to the WHO, a sign of the challenges medical staff on the frontlines of the outbreak face.


“The growth we are seeing in COVID-19 cases in Africa is placing an ever-greater strain on health services across the continent,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.


“This has very real consequences for the individuals who work in them, and there is no more sobering example of this than the rising number of health worker infections.”


So far, about 10 per cent of all cases globally are among health workers, though there is a wide range between individual countries.


In Africa, information on health worker infections are still limited, but preliminary data finds that they make up more than 5 per cent of cases in 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa alone, and in four of these, health workers make up more than 10 per cent of all infections.


Inadequate access to personal protective equipment or weak infection prevention and control measures raise the risk of health worker infection.


Surging global demand for protective equipment as well as global restrictions on travel has triggered supply shortages. Health workers can also be exposed to patients who do not show signs of the disease and are in the health facilities for a range of other services.


Risks may also arise when health personnel are repurposed for COVID-19 response without adequate briefing, or because of heavy workloads which result in fatigue and burnout.


In many African countries, infection prevention and control measures aimed at preventing infections in health facilities are still not fully implemented.

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