The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa has risen to more than 11, 000 and caused more than 500 deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed.
While the virus was slow to reach the continent compared to other parts of the world, the infection has grown exponentially in recent weeks and continues to spread. Reaching the continent through travelers returning from hotspots in Asia, Europe, and the United States. Africa’s first COVID-19 case was recorded in Egypt on 14 February 2020 and since then a total of 52 African countries have reported cases.
Initially, mainly confined to capital cities, a significant number of countries in Africa are now reporting cases in multiple provinces.
“COVID-19 has the potential not only to cause thousands of deaths but to also unleash economic and social devastation. Its spread beyond major cities means the opening of a new front in our fight against this virus. This requires a decentralized 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,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said in a statement.
WHO is 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 decentralized testing.
These combined measures will ensure the rapid identification of cases, the tracking down and quarantining of contacts and the isolation and treatment of patients. It is also crucial that people are provided with accurate information that will promote healthy behaviour. Protection of health workers is a vital component of the response and when governments implement physical distancing measures, the basic needs of people should be taken into account.
“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,” said Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean.
There is concern about the impact of the pandemic on countries with fragile health systems and those experiencing complex emergencies and it is critical that countries do all they can to prevent this outbreak from intensifying further. This means a strong public health response by every arm of government and every part of society. WHO 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.