Africa relaxes restrictions despite risk of spread of coronavirus

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As some African states relax their protective measures against the coronavirus, the epidemic is far from over in Africa. According to new WHO estimates, nearly 190,000 people could die from Covid-19 this year on the continent if the disease is not brought under control.

The exponential increase in coronavirus cases in Africa, so feared and repeatedly announced by specialists around the world, has not yet taken place. According to a new study by the Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO) for Africa, we thus observe “ un slower transmission rates, lower age of people with severe forms and lower death rates than those seen in the most affected countries in the rest of the world” WHO explains these differences by “social and environmental factors that slow transmission, and to a younger population that has benefited from the control of communicable diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis, which makes them less vulnerable. “

Burkina reopens places of worship

Across the continent, the African Union Center for Disease Prevention and Control has to date just over 2,000 deaths since the start of the crisis, while the Covid-19 killed 270,000 people in the rest of the world. Faced with these encouraging figures and especially with bloodless economies and a poor population, which lives day by day and which suffers more and more from the restrictions adopted to fight against the virus, many States begin to release the pressure.

In Burkina Faso, places of worship are reopened and public transport has been able to circulate again. In Cameroon, the most affected French-speaking sub-Saharan country with nearly 2,300 cases and a hundred deaths, bars and restaurants reopened in the evening. But Doctor Yap Boum, professor of microbiology in Yaoundé, regional representative of the research and epidemiology branch of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) believes that the end of these restrictions sends a bad message to the population: ” we are very far from the peak of the epidemic (note: the moment when the virus will be the most widespread and when the number of cases will be the highest), this lifting of confinement makes us think that we will end up with a meteoric increase in the number of cases.

The hardest part is yet to come

In South Africa, the continent’s most affected country with 8,232 cases and 161 deaths, strict containment in place since March 27, was also relaxed this week, allowing hundreds of thousands to return to work and many voices are raised to demand a total lifting of containment.

Coronavirus: Africa faces the pandemic on Friday 8 May

However, ” the hardest part is yet to come “South African President Cyril Ramaphosa also warned this week. Because even if very strict measures, implemented since March 27, have prevented an explosion of cases, doctors and scientists agree that the health crisis is far from over. In the past week, the curve of new infections has accelerated, with 300 new cases per day. According to Professor Salim Abdool Karim, member of the government’s advisory committee ” a drop is not possible, we have no immunity to this virus, no vaccines. The question is: how quickly is the number of cases increasing? This is what we are trying to control. According to him, the epidemic peak should take place between the end of July and the beginning of September. The objective is therefore to save time so as not to overflow the hospitals, and to be able to prepare for the weeks to come.

Professor Michel Yao, head of emergency operations for WHO Africa in Brazzaville, containment does indeed work, but it must above all ” allow the establishment of means of detection, confirmation and management of patients ” Except according to him, at present, many countries do not have ” implemented these means on a decentralized scale Because of lack of means and because of the difficulties of importing material.

Even taking into account the social, health and environmental specificities of the continent, a new WHO model estimates that ” 83000 to 190 000 people in Africa could die from Covid-19 and 29 to 44 million could be infected in 2020 if containment measures fail

Isolated areas affected in the Sahel

In the Sahel, the number of cases also continues to increase, especially in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. In Mali, the pandemic is even starting to reach isolated areas, at war with terrorist groups. The first cases were identified this week in the Mopti region in the center of the country. An area where basic social services are non-existent and where entire villages live under the yoke of jihadists.

In addition to the isolation of a large part of the population in villages far from urban centers, the problem remains the weakness of health systems. A WHO health services survey undertaken in March 2020 ” found that there were an average of nine intensive care unit beds per million people ” These figures would be ” terribly insufficient According to the organization, which also deplores that “many people would not even be able to access the necessary care”.

Test, trace, isolate and treat…

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the head of state Felix Tshisekedi was thus arrested by patients and carers, complaining, as in other countries, of unsuitable masks, insufficient supplies, and poor wages by in relation to the risks involved. Another example in Cameroon, rapid intervention and investigation teams have been deployed by the government, but they lack the human, financial and material resources to work effectively. The caregivers demonstrated on Saturday May 2 in front of the National Center for Public Health Operations in Yaoundé to demand payment of their salary.

Another challenge: the fight against other diseases which could be slowed down by prioritization in favor of Covid-19. Malaria of course, but also measles. According to WHO, 117 million children worldwide could be missing their measles vaccination in the coming months. Médecins sans frontières has alerted this week to the need to continue vaccination campaigns in Chad, the Central African Republic and the DRC.

The Central African Republic even declared a state of epidemic at the end of January after an explosion of cases never seen in two decades according to the ministry of health.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa therefore recalls that “ Covid-19 could be a part of our lives for the next few years if many governments in the Region do not take a proactive approach. We have to test, trace, isolate and treat ” Take advantage of this time saved to better prepare.

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