Coronavirus: How fast is it spreading in Africa?


THE progression of Covid-19 in Africa may be following a different path to other parts of the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Six months after the first case was detected on the continent, the WHO says African nations may be seeing a more gradual rise in cases, rather than rapid, large surges as happened in other parts of the world.

At what rate is coronavirus spreading?

The continent passed one million cases on August 6, but the rate of increase has slowed. In the week ending August 16, the WHO Africa region (which excludes Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, Tunisia and Libya) reported the largest decrease in new daily cases and deaths globally.

The growth in numbers of new cases was down by 27 percent and in deaths by 21 percent compared with the previous week, largely due to falling numbers in South Africa, Kenya, Algeria, Nigeria and Ghana.

However, Ethiopia reported a 56 percent growth in new cases and a 12 percent increase in deaths, with more than half of the cases in Addis Ababa.

The country is running a mass testing campaign, aiming at conducting 400 000 tests in one month.

The WHO says many countries are seeing gradual rises, making it difficult to identify a specific peak.

It has warned that the coronavirus is moving from high-density urban areas to rural areas. In terms of confirmed cases, Africa accounts for only a small proportion of the global total — just 5 percent.

But the global humanitarian relief body, the International Rescue Committee, says it believes the true scale of the pandemic may be hidden because of a lack of testing and issues with data.

Where are Africa’s hotspots?

South Africa has the highest recorded number of total cases and reported deaths in Africa, and the fifth highest number of cases in the world.

Reported deaths appear lower compared with other countries in the world badly hit by coronavirus.

Daily reported numbers and hospital admissions have been falling, although WHO says it is too early to make conclusions.

“The country’s current policy of testing only those who present with symptoms makes full interpretation of case numbers difficult,” WHO says.

And research from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) indicates the number of people who have died from the virus could be much higher than reported. It says excess deaths, which is the difference between deaths over a particular period and the historical average, rose by 17 000 — that is a 59 percent increase compared with previous years.

Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg, accounts for more than a third of the total cases. But Western Cape province (where Cape Town is located) has reported most deaths.

Egypt has the second highest number of cases and deaths, but new infections in the country have also been dropping.

It is worth stressing that some parts of the continent have seen relatively few cases, and the Africa CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) says just five countries account for more than 75 percent of all reported cases.

How many people are dying in Africa?

The reported death rate per capita has been low compared to other parts of the world, despite the poor health infrastructure in many African countries.

The WHO says this could be partly because of the relatively young population in Africa — more than 60 percent under the age of 25. Covid-19 is known to have a higher mortality rate for older age groups.

Health problems common to richer countries, like obesity and type 2 diabetes, are also less common in Africa.

In terms of what proportion of people who get Covid-19 go on to die, there were nine African countries on August 14 with rates comparable with or higher than the global average rate of 3,7 percent. —

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