WATCH | Virus could hit more than 200 million in Africa says WHO

People leave after waiting in queues for food aid in Sunderland Ridge, Pretoria, on Thursday, with little evidence of social distancing. The WHO is concerned African countries' healthcare systems may become overwhelmed.
People leave after waiting in queues for food aid in Sunderland Ridge, Pretoria, on Thursday, with little evidence of social distancing. The WHO is concerned African countries' healthcare systems may become overwhelmed.
Image: REUTERS/ SIPHIWE SIBEKO

The new coronavirus could kill 150,000 people in Africa in a year unless urgent action is taken, according to a World Health Organisation modelling study that says nearly a quarter of a billion people will be infected.

Authors of the research, published on Friday in the journal BMJ Global Health, predicted a lower infection rate than in other parts of the world like Europe and the US, with fewer severe cases and deaths.

But while they said many African nations had been swift to adopt containment measures, they warned health systems could still quickly become overwhelmed.

“Our model points to the scale of the problem for health systems if containment measures fail,” the author said.

The study comes amid warnings that Covid-19 threatens a health emergency in developing nations, where fragile health systems are already struggling with an array of other chronic diseases.

Almost a quarter of a billion Africans could become infected with COVID-19, according to a new modelling study by the World Health Organization (WHO). There are concerns over the readiness of healthcare systems on the continent to handle mass infections. In the midst of the pandemic, Burundi has expelled the top WHO officials in the country, apparently for what it sees as meddling. The news made world headlines, as Burundi prepares to vote for a new president and parliament on May 20. This and other news in Africa Weekly. Subscribe to AFP and activate your notifications to get the latest news 🔔 http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC86dbj-lbDks_hZ5gRKL49Q/?sub_confirmation=1

Experts at the WHO’s Africa office modelled likely rates of exposure to the virus and infection in the 47 countries under its regional remit, which excludes Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan and Tunisia.

About 231 million people, or 22% (with a range of 16-26%) of the one billion people in the region were expected to be infected in the 12-month period — most of them showing few or no symptoms.

But an estimated 4.6 million people would need hospitalisation, 140,000 would have severe Covid-19 infection and 89,000 would become critically ill, according to the model.

That would lead to 83,000-190,000 deaths, the study suggested.

The model estimates what would happen for each country over a year from the beginning of widespread and sustained community transmission.

Researchers warned that surging hospital admissions for Covid-19 would divert already limited resources to tackle major health issues in the region, such as HIV, TB, malaria and malnutrition, worsening the impact of coronavirus.

The region will have fewer deaths, but occurring more in relatively younger age groups, among people previously considered healthy, due to undiagnosed non-communicable diseases

“The region will have fewer deaths, but occurring more in relatively younger age groups, among people previously considered healthy, due to undiagnosed non-communicable diseases,” the report said, adding these trends were already emerging.

The researchers said they expected the virus would likely circulate within the region for longer than other countries, possibly for several years.

Transmission was estimated to be greatest in small nations, with Mauritius found to have the highest risk of exposure.

Of the region’s large countries, SA, Cameroon and Algeria were also in the top 10 for exposure risk.

The authors calculated this risk by looking at each country’s “gathering factor” (including family size and population density), people’s likely ease of movement, sanitation provision and hygiene practices.

They also included weather.

It is not known if warmer temperatures slow down the spread of Covid-19, though some research suggests it may have that effect on other coronaviruses.

Researchers factored in each country’s measures to control the spread of the virus, including physical distancing.

They also looked at health risk factors — proportion of the population over 65, HIV prevalence (as a proxy for chronic communicable conditions) and diabetes (as a proxy for non-communicable chronic illness).

The report assumed that about 88% of people would not know they had the virus, with either mild symptoms or none at all, while 4% would suffer severe or life-threatening illness.

They called for countries to rapidly boost healthcare capacity, particularly in primary hospitals.

The UN said earlier in May that the number of deaths from Aids-related illnesses in sub-Saharan Africa could double if provision of healthcare to those living with HIV was disrupted during the coronavirus crisis. — AFP


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