Cape Town — The low infection rates in Africa countries could be a result of a lesser capacity to test for COVID-19, relative to other countries where it has spread, and not necessarily an accurate reflection of the rates of new infections, according to the latest WHO briefing on the virus.
Having said that, the WHO Africa region and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and its partners have been hard at work training health workers, advising governments and putting health resources in place to remedy the continent’s testing capacity.
“Infections are increasingly spreading not only between African countries but within different localities in the hardest-hit countries. Coupled with this as the flu seasons starts to kick in, especially in Southern African countries there is expected to be an increase in COVID-19 cases,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Africa Regional Director of the World Health Organization (WHOAfro).
Dr. Moeti also addressed concerns about the economic and social dimensions of the lockdowns put in place by a number of African countries.
“The potential economic impact is a great concern and it requires that governments should then put in place mitigation measures in order for example for people at the lowest socio-economic level not to suffer unduly from the fact that many of them work in the informal sector of the economy and do not have formal employment, some of the people are working as market stall holders and need to earn some money everyday in order to put food on the table.
“There is a need to balance the feasibility of some of these physical distancing measures in contexts where families live in very small spaces, have very communal types of lives and actually physical distancing in the house might be quite a challenge. These are some of the considerations that we’ve seen in some countries that have imposed these measures,” Moeti said.
“Physical distancing is a very important component of controlling this virus. We’ve seen it applied in contexts which are quite different from Africa, and where it is being applied in Africa there needs to be very careful, thoughtful analysis and an urgent putting in place of mitigation measures to ensure that these measures are feasible for the population and people who are vulnerable don’t suffer unduly.
“For socially restrictive measures to be effective, they must be accompanied by strong, sustained and targeted public health measures that locate, isolate, test and treat COVID-19 cases,” Moeti said.
Lola Castro, the World Food Programme Regional Director for Southern Africa, says there needs to an effort to look at the differing needs of urban and rural populations in terms of food security. She also emphasised the need to maintain regional trade from food-producing countries to their neighbours in order to secure the supply of food.
” It’s vital that ports continue to operate to receive food and other essential humanitarian cargo; that borders and roads stay open so it can be moved where it is most needed; and that distributions to vulnerable people are conducted safely,” said Castro.
” It’s also crucial that the international community promptly provide the considerable funding needed to maintain and scale up assistance programmes.”