In Africa, coronavirus cases rise as experts voice concern about health systems

Cases of the new coronavirus are increasing in Africa, with six new countries reporting confirmed infections in the past 24 hours.

In Africa, at least 17 of the continent’s 54 countries have now registered cases of COVID-19. The majority of these cases are imported, according to the authorities.

Kenya, Guinea and Ethiopia reported their first cases on Friday, while Gabon and Ghana did so on Thursday evening. Sudan has also reported its first case, a person who has already died.

Experts warn that on the continent of more than 1.3 billion people, containment is essential, as already strained health systems in Africa could likely lead to higher death rates and a deeper crisis with global impact .

>> Find out more: Is Africa, with its low rates so far, ready to face the coronavirus pandemic?

African countries only started reporting cases in February, and most were imported by travelers from Europe and the United States.

South Africa announced eight new cases on Friday, bringing its total to 24. Amid growing concern across the country, the military is preparing to repatriate 121 South African students from the epicenter of the epidemic , Wuhan, China. Returned students and military personnel on the flight will be immediately placed in quarantine.

Africa has so far managed to contain the virus because it detected the cases early, said Dr Mary Stephen, technical manager at the World Health Organization regional office in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo.

The number of continents is small compared to the United States, Europe and especially in Asia, where the virus originates, but experts and foundations warn that the emergence of COVID-19 on the African continent could be catastrophic. given the fragility of health systems in several countries.

“From the start, we knew the continent was in danger,” Stephen told the Associated Press. “The uniqueness of Africa is the fact that we have a large population,” she said, adding that the continent’s health systems have many other emergencies at the same time, “including Ebola.

The goal is to quickly detect, isolate and manage cases, she said. “We want to prevent community transmission,” she said.

“Very transparent”

The vast majority of people are recovering from the new virus. The number of COVID-19 cases worldwide has exceeded 120,000 and 60,000 people have already recovered. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more serious illness can take three to six weeks to recover.

African hospitals may not be sufficiently prepared to care for a large number of people who may need intensive care and ventilators, according to health experts.

At the start of the epidemic, only two African countries had the capacity to test COVID-19 and now 43 countries have laboratories to detect cases, according to the CDC Africa, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He indicates that all the laboratories have kits to carry out 100 to 200 tests. WHO and CDC are ready to provide additional kits for 1,000 tests to any country reporting a case.

Communication was essential, according to Stephen from WHO, who said media and social media attention had helped.

“The governments have also been very transparent,” and reported cases as soon as they were detected, she said.

Several African governments have already closed the borders, including Chad and Gabon, or have suspended official travel.

Low contact volume

The most likely reason why Africa has such a low number of cases is because of the low volume of contact between the continent and the world, including fewer planes and people coming here, said Augustin Augier, director executive of the non-governmental organization Alliance for International. Medical action, known as ALIMA.

However, he warned, it is only a matter of time before Africa catches up and the result could be a higher death rate.

“The concerns are very strong because in a certain number of countries, notably in sub-Saharan Africa, the health systems are already weak … so if the epidemic also occurs in these areas, we can expect a much higher mortality rate higher than in Europe or Asia, “he said.

Despite all the preparations by governments, “the most serious cases will not have access to the people and to the quality of care that they deserve and that they could expect elsewhere,” he said. “At some point, this crisis will jeopardize the capacity of humanitarian and relief organizations.

Most importantly, a global strategy must be found, he said, saying that if it hits hard in Africa, it will only return to the United States and Europe.

Dr. Jean-Jacques Muyembe, who led Congo’s response to Ebola, warned that even with preparation, COVID-19 presents major challenges.

If the virus spreads locally and circulates in places like the Congo where there are not as many prevention methods, “we will face enormous problems”.

“It would be a mistake to minimize the disease … we have to take this very seriously and do everything so that the chains of transmission are known so that we stop its spread.”

(FRANCE 24 with AP)