WHO: Sub-Saharan Africa reporting at least 300 COVID-19 cases a day

Officials warn that although governments were trying to be transparent and do the right thing, some slipped through the net.

By Chris Bishop

COVID-19 cases are occurring at the rate of 300-a-day in sub-Saharan Africa and there are likely to be many more that the authorities are missing, a World Health Organisation briefing on the continent admitted Thursday. The good news is that experts are hard at work on creating a vaccine, but this may take more than a year.

The WHO is working with governments across Africa to contain the disease as it threatens to spread rapidly throughout the continent. Rwanda and Angola have gone on lockdown in the last week and South Africa will follow suit a midnight Thursday when businesses and shops – except those selling food and medicine – will close across the country. 

The webinar briefing, moderated by the World Economic Forum from Geneva, heard that a month ago just one country in Sub-Saharan Africa reported an infection; just two weeks ago it was 10 and in the last three days 40 Sub-Saharan Africa countries said they had cases of COVID-19.  

“We have still a window, true it is narrowing every day, to contain this disease. In half of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa we still have imported cases and we have identified that local spread is not happening…We could contain this virus in many countries. What we are seeing is draconian measures being put in place, like closing down places and stopping flights, but these need to be following up by checking on people in quarantine and making sure there is social distancing. We still have the opportunity to stop it in some countries,” says Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, from her headquarters in Congo Brazzaville. 

South African born Moeti, a citizen of Botswana, said there was strong political will to fight the outbreak with countries in Africa ramping up their defences. When the first case was reported in Africa, she said, only Senegal and South Africa had the laboratories to diagnose the disease; now 40 countries had the wherewithal.

WHO officials also admitted, under questions from journalists on the webinar, that small countries and island nations in Sub-Saharan Africa were most at risk, along with countries suffering conflict and population displacements, because their resources were thin.

Officials also said that conditions in some parts of Africa – where 50 or 60 people could be living the same property were not conducive to the social distancing that is being seen as a main plank in the strategy to fight the disease.

“I think this is something we will continue to think through there is no easy answer to it. We have to think through the issue of our own cultural leanings…This is something in which we have to work closely with our community,” says Dr John Nkengasong, the director of the African Centres for Disease Control for WHO.

Officials also admitted, when asked whether cases were being underreported in Africa, that although governments were trying to be transparent and do the right thing, some slipped through the net.

“There are cases out there that we don’t know,” admitted one official.   

Scores of experts were working on a vaccine for COVID-19, but it was likely to take a year to 18 months to perfect one for the market.

For now, quarantine and keep your distance.

For more coverage on COVID-19 visit: https://www.cnbcafrica.com/covid-19/

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