Official statistics on coronavirus cases in Africa give the impression that the continent has escaped its worst pandemic. But on a continent where most deaths are unreported and many countries struggle to vaccinate their people, the vast majority of coronavirus cases – an estimated six out of seven – remain undetected, according to Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, director of Africa at the World Health Organization.
Speaking at a briefing on Thursday, Dr Moeti said that WHO estimates that around 59 million people in Africa have been infected with the coronavirus between the start of the pandemic and October 10. Only a little over 8 million cases have been officially reported. …
“It’s time to go on the offensive on Covid-19 and work with local communities to break chains of transmission and prevent wider outbreaks,” said Dr. Moeti.
The WHO analysis was based on a coronavirus calculator developed by Resolve to Save Lives, a global public health organization that specializes in cardiovascular disease and epidemic prevention. The coronavirus calculator estimates infections based on the number of reported cases and deaths, as well as “infection mortality rates based on population-based studies,” according to the WHO.
Africa remains the continent with the lowest vaccination rate. In nearly half of the African countries that received the Covid-19 vaccine, only 2 percent of the population or less have been fully vaccinated, according to the WHO.
With limited access to testing, many communities in Africa “fly blindly,” where asymptomatic people transmit the virus, unaware that they have it, according to Dr. Moeti.
In an effort to curb transmission, she announced a community initiative to strengthen coronavirus testing in eight countries: Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Senegal and Zambia. The initiative includes increased use of antigen detection, a relatively inexpensive type of test that gives results in about 15 minutes, and a “ring” voluntary testing strategy for anyone living within 100 meters of a positive case.
Dr Moeti said the number of coronavirus cases in most African countries appears to be on a “declining or stabilizing” trend, although some are still reporting an increase, including Angola, Gabon and Cameroon. In Rwanda, where one of the most stringent restrictions on the continent was imposed, bars resumed normal operation at the end of September after being closed for 18 months.
Several African countries are also facing outbreaks of other infectious diseases, including the deadly Ebola virus. Côte d’Ivoire confirmed its first Ebola case in nearly 30 years in August, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo has since reported two Ebola deaths, Dr Moeti said. An outbreak of the disease occurred in Guinea at the beginning of the year.