THE number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Africa has risen to more than 10,000 and caused more than 500 deaths, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The WHO said that while the virus had been slow to reach the continent compared to other parts of the world, the infection had grown ‘exponentially’ in recent weeks and continued to spread.
Reaching the continent through travellers returning from hotspots in Asia, Europe and the US, Africa’s first Covid-19 case was recorded in Egypt on February 14.
Since then, 52 countries have reported cases.
Initially, mainly confined to capital cities, a significant number of African countries are now reporting cases in multiple provinces, according to the WHO.
‘Covid-19 has the potential not only to cause thousands of deaths but to also unleash economic and social devastation,’ said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
‘Its spread beyond major cities means the opening of a new front in our fight against this virus.
‘This requires a decentralised response, which is tailored to the local context.
‘Communities need to be empowered, and provincial and district levels of government need to ensure they have the resources and expertise to respond to outbreaks locally,’ she added.
The WHO said it was working with governments across Africa to scale up their capacities in critical response areas such as coordination, surveillance, testing, isolation, case management, contact tracing, infection prevention and control, risk communication and community engagement, and laboratory capacity.
Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Nigeria have expanded national testing to multiple labs, allowing for decentralised testing.
These combined measures would ensure the rapid identification of cases, the tracking down and quarantining of contacts and the isolation and treatment of patients, the WHO said.
It stressed that people must be provided with accurate information that would promote ‘healthy behaviours.’
The WHO added that the protection of health workers was a vital component of the response and when governments implemented physical distancing measures, the basic needs of people should be taken into account.
Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said: ‘Africa still has an opportunity to reduce and slow down disease transmission.
‘All countries must rapidly accelerate and scale up a comprehensive response to the pandemic, including an appropriate combination of proven public health and physical distancing measures.
‘Within that process, member states should target effective control of the outbreak, but plan for the worst,’ Dr Al-Mandhari noted.
He went on: ‘Early isolation of all cases, including mild cases, is one of the key control measures, along with early detection, early treatment and contact tracing.
‘Timely and accurate epidemiological data is one of the most important tools to inform and drive the response.
‘We must protect our health care workers and ensure that they are appropriately equipped – they are on the front lines and need our unwavering support.
‘We owe them a great deal,’ he added.
The WHO said there was concern about the impact of the pandemic on countries with fragile health systems and those experiencing complex emergencies.
It called on the international community to extend technical and financial support to these countries “to enhance response capacities to minimise the spread of the outbreak.’
The WHO warned that some countries in Africa may not have adequate intensive care unit capacity such as beds, ventilators and trained personal, adding that it was critical that countries did all they could to prevent this outbreak from intensifying further.
‘This means a strong public health response by every arm of government and every part of society,’ the WHO said.
The UN specialised agency is working across Africa to deliver essential equipment, train health workers, clinicians and public servants on how best to respond to Covid-19, and to tailor global guidance to challenging local contexts.
It said it was also working ‘to address global market failures and ensure reliable and equitable distribution of essential supplies and equipment to low- and middle-income countries, including those in Africa.’