The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that over 600 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in 34 African countries as of 19 March, compared with 147 cases one week ago.
The organisation, in a statement, said that twelve countries in the African region are now experiencing local transmission while urging governments to prevent local transmission from evolving into a worst case scenario of widespread sustained community transmission.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said “The rapid evolution of COVID-19 in Africa is deeply worrisome and a clear signal for action. But we can still change the course of this pandemic. Governments must draw on all of their resources and capabilities and strengthen their response.
“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.”
According to the statement, understanding how the COVID-19 pandemic will evolve in Africa is still a work in progress, adding that the response will need to be adapted to the African context.
“The demographics on the continent are very different from China, Europe and the USA. Africa has the world’s youngest population and it appears that older people are more vulnerable to COVID-19. However, preliminary analysis finds that people with underlying conditions are at higher risk.
“Across the Region, nearly 26 million people are living with HIV. Over 58 million children have stunted growth due to malnutrition. So it is possible that younger people will be more at risk in Africa than in other parts of the world,” the statement explained.
WHO further stated that it has been supporting governments with early detection by providing COVID-19 testing kits to countries in Africa, training lab technicians, and strengthening surveillance in communities.
It said “forty-five countries in Africa can now test for COVID-19. At the start of the outbreak, only two could do so. WHO is also providing remote support to affected countries on the use of electronic data tools, so national health authorities can better understand the outbreak in their countries.
“Personal protective equipment has been shipped to 24 countries, and a second shipment is being prepared for countries with confirmed cases.”