WHO for Africa issued a statement dated 22 May 2020. The World Health Organization has addressed the number of confirmed cases on the continent through its attached release:
Brazzaville/Cairo, 22 May 2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic has reached a milestone in Africa today, with over 100,000 confirmed cases. The virus has now spread to all countries on the continent since the first case was confirmed in the region 14 weeks ago.
Although it has crossed this threshold, the pandemic, which has hit a large part of the world with devastating force, seems to be heading in a different direction in Africa. The number of cases has not increased at the same exponential rate as in other regions and so far Africa has not experienced the high mortality observed in some parts of the world.
Today, there are 3,100 confirmed deaths on the continent.
By comparison, when cases reached 100,000 in the World Health Organization (WHO) European region, deaths were over 4,900. Early WHO analyses suggest that the low mortality rate in Africa could be the result of demographics and other possible factors. Africa is the youngest continent in terms of population, with over 60% of the population under the age of 25. Older adults have a significantly higher risk of developing a serious illness. In Europe, nearly 95% of deaths occur among people over the age of 60.
African governments have made difficult decisions and have been quick to impose containment measures, including physical and social distancing, that will have a significant socio-economic cost. These measures, which, with the search for contacts and isolation, the extension and increase of hand washing, helped to slow the spread of the virus.
“So far, the continent has been spared the high number of deaths that have devastated other parts of the world,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “ It is possible that the dividend of our youth will bear fruit and lead to fewer deaths. But we must avoid the trap of complacency because our health systems are fragile and less able to cope”.
The continent has made significant progress in testing with approximately 1.5 million COVID-19 tests conducted to date. However, screening rates remain low and many countries continue to need support to increase screening. There is a need to expand screening capacity in urban, semi-urban and rural areas, and to provide additional test kits.
Cases continue to grow in Africa, and while it took 52 days overall to reach the first 10,000 cases, it only took 11 days to increase from 30,000 to 50,000 cases. About half of the countries in Africa have Community transmission. More than 3,400 health care professionals have been infected with COVID-19. It is important that health authorities prioritize the protection of health care personnel against COVID-19 infection in medical facilities and communities. It is also necessary to provide sufficient personal protective equipment to health care professionals and to raise awareness, as well as to strengthen the prevention and control of infections in health care facilities.
Testing as many people as possible and protecting health professionals who come into contact with suspected and confirmed cases are crucial aspects of this response. Despite global shortages, we strive to prioritize delivery of test kits and personal protective equipment to low- and middle-income countries with the most vulnerable populations, based on the number of reported cases.” said Dr Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean.
Despite the relatively low number of COVID-19 cases in Africa, the pandemic remains a major threat to the continent’s health systems. A new WHO modelling study predicts that if containment measures fail, even with a lower number of hospitalizations than elsewhere, medical capacity in much of Africa would be exceeded.
Now that countries are beginning to relax their containment measures, the number of cases may increase considerably. It is essential that governments remain vigilant and ready to adjust measures based on epidemiological data and an appropriate risk assessment.
WHO has offices in every country on the continent and works closely with the African Centers for Disease Control, the ministries of health, United Nations agencies and other partners to support scaling-up of the response through coordination, technical expertise, provision of essential medical equipment and assistance in data collection and analysis. The WHO has trained over 7,000 health professionals, including 1,000 district health teams to support the decentralization of the response. To date, more than 225 experts have been deployed to more than 39 countries in Africa and more than 900 staff have been reassigned to regional and national levels to support the response.