By Chris Bishop
As the COVID-19 outbreak spreads across Africa, the World Health Organization says it doesn’t know how many ventilators it has to help patients gasp their way to recovery, but admits there is an “enormous gap” in supply.
In a webcast briefing to journalists, from across Africa, WHO also warned it was too premature to say that the numerous lockdowns were turning the tide.
“I believe it is too early say, the lockdown has been in place for a few days. I think the full infections and transmission picture will only show days from now. There has been backlog in testing in South Africa and we may see some dramatic increase when that backlog is cleared, “says Matshidiso Moete, the South African-born Botswana-raised WHO Regional Director for Africa, from her headquarters in Congo Brazzaville.
“South Africa also has to confirm tests of samples from a number of countries around it. So we need to wait a while before coming to that conclusion.”
As for ventilators, admitted that WHO did not know how many were in Africa, but we trying to find out by gathering information from as many countries across the continent. It was also encouraging African nations to share research and information in the search for a vaccine, that may only see the light of day towards the end of next year.
“At the moment, we are trying to find out this information and we don’t have the actual number. What we can say, without any doubt, there is an enormous gap in the number ventilators needed in Africa,” says Moete.
“There is a global shortage and lockdowns everywhere. We are trying to find out numbers and make projections. We are making a plan to help transportation to help procure ventilators and get them into countries with the necessary permission. ..It is an area of great challenges…one of the biggest challenges that more developed countries, with more resources, are facing.”
Zebulon Yoti, a World Health Organization officer and veteran of the fight against Ebola, said global figures showed that between one and two per cent of COVID-19 patients need ventilators while 15% needed an ICU. Journalists also raised concerns that Africa did not have enough ICUs.
One African myth dispelled during the briefing was the idea that people in countries with malaria were more somehow more immune to COVID-19. The question came from a journalist in Mozambique, a country with a big malaria problem, was this true?
“No, I’m afraid not…Some of the countries seeing cases expand, like Nigeria and Senegal, have a malaria problem. So, I am afraid not.”