Coronavirus could claim 190,000 lives in Africa, WHO report says

Up to 190,000 people across Africa could die in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic if crucial containment measures fail, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

The global organisation sounded the warning through a new study whose findings were released Thursday, May 7, looking at the impact of coronavirus should containment measures on the continent fail.

 

The new study predicts that between 29 million to 44 million people could become infected in the first year of the pandemic if containment measures fail.

 

This “would overwhelm the available medical capacity in much of Africa where there are only nine intensive care unit beds per one million people,” the report reads in part.

 

The new research also predicts a prolonged outbreak that could last for “a few years.”

“While COVID-19 likely won’t spread as exponentially in Africa as it has elsewhere in the world, it likely will smoulder in transmission hotspots,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa said in a WHO statement.

“COVID-19 could become a fixture in our lives for the next several years unless a proactive approach is taken by many governments in the region. We need to test, trace, isolate, and treat.” Moeti added, “Curbing a largescale outbreak is far costlier than the ongoing preventive measures governments are undertaking to contain the spread of the virus”.

The virus has spread quickly on the continent over the last week, with infections topping 54,000 by 8 May while more than 2000 patients have lost their lives, according to the latest figures from John Hopkins University.

According to WHO, this sporadic and slower pattern of transmission sets Africa apart from other regions.

Other factors considered are the region's younger populations who have "benefitted from the control of communicable diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis", as well as lower mortality rates.

Their estimates are based on prediction modeling and focus on 47 countries in the WHO African region - Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and Djibouti are not included.

Most countries have put in place different measures of varying severity that appears to have slowed the spread of the virus.

For instance, the government of Rwanda has issued strict instructions for everyone to put on facemasks in public and in multi-family compounds, on top of other measures like washing of hands regularly, and to practice physical distancing.

This comes after the country recently eased the COVID-19 lockdown allowing most businesses to resume operations for 15 days.

With no fatality reported so far, the country has confirmed a total of 271 cases while 133 patients have fully recovered.

However, schools, bars and places of worship remain closed, while taxi-moto operators are still not permitted to carry passengers. Large gatherings such as weddings and parties remain suspended while only 30 people can attend a funeral.

Among the other measures, employers are required to allow their non-essential staff to continue working from home or to rotate employees ensuring that a maximum of 50 percent are in office at a time.

Markets and public buses are also operating at half-capacity to ensure physical distancing, while a 5a.m-8p.m curfew has been introduced for the 15-day period.

eashimwe@newtimesrwanda.com

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