The World Health Organisation (WHO) says COVID-19 infections in Africa have surpassed 500,000 and there is concern as a growing number of countries are experiencing a sharp rise in cases.
WHO Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo disclosed this in a statement posted on its website.
It said, so far, in less than five months, the virus had claimed 11, 959 lives, overtaking the 11, 308 lives lost in the world’s worst Ebola outbreak in West Africa between 2014 and 2016.
“Cases have more than doubled in 22 countries in the region over the past month; nearly two-thirds of countries are experiencing community transmission.
“Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa account for about 71 per cent of COVID-19 cases. South Africa alone accounts for 43 per cent of the continent’s total cases.
“However, the accelerating growth trend is not uniform across the continent, with some countries recording a steady rise in cases, indicating a protracted pandemic.
“Eritrea, Gambia, Mali, Seychelles and Togo are witnessing long doubling times and low growth rates.
“Seychelles had not experienced a case in nearly two months, but in the past week had dozens of new imported cases, linked to crew members of an international fishing vessel.’’
According to the statement, there are also some signs of progress as 10 countries have experienced a downward trend over the past month.
Although, it said Egypt accounted for 15 per cent of cumulative cases, it has seen a decline in the past week.
The statement quoted Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Director for Africa, as saying: “ with more than a third of countries in Africa doubling their cases over the past month, the threat of COVID-19 overwhelming fragile health systems on the continent is escalating.
“So far, the continent has avoided disaster and if countries continue to strengthen key public health measures such as testing, tracing contacts and isolating cases, we can slow down the spread of the virus to a manageable level.”
The UN health agency said 88 per cent of COVID-19 infections are among people aged 60 and below, likely due to Africa’s relatively young population.
“However, the likelihood of dying from COVID-19 rises with increasing age and the existence of co-morbidities, with the risk of death among patients aged 60 years and above being 10 times higher compared with those below 60.’’
The statement also quoted Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, as saying “communities across the continent have a crucial role to play in controlling the pandemic.
“They have a role to play in controlling the pandemic, especially as countries begin easing lockdowns and opening up their borders.
“As governments continue to implement public health measures, individuals must remain as cautious and vigilant as ever to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.
“Hand washing, mask use, physical distancing and other preventative measures are key to controlling transmission, saving lives, and ensuring that already overwhelmed health systems are not stretched to breaking point.”
The UN health agency further said as COVID-19 continued to spread, thousands of health workers had also fallen ill.
“Equipping and protecting health workers is one of the central pillars of the COVID-19 response.
“WHO is working to support countries respond to COVID-19 by providing technical guidance, crucial medical equipment and has remotely trained more than 25 000 health workers.
“WHO has also organised more than 420 shipments of key equipment.
“These equipment include more than 3,000 oxygen concentrators, 23, 000 GeneXpert diagnostic testing machines and almost four million pieces of personal protective equipment for health care workers,’’ it said. (NAN)