AFRICA AND COVID-19 PREPAREDNESS

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The continent could do more to contain the pandemic

In spite of the relatively low numbers of infection and death on the Continent, Africa may eventually be overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said last week that about 250,000 million people in Africa would be infected with the deadly viral disease out of which some 190,000 could die in the first 12 months. This projection is not all-inclusive as some north African countries like Egypt, Sudan and Libya were left out. According to the study published by the British Medical Journal, more than five million Africans would be hospitalised with the continent’s fragile health care systems gradually being overwhelmed.

These figures are consistent with the earlier report by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). In April, the ECA said over 300,000 Africans could lose their lives due to COVID-19. Vera Songwe, United Nations Under Secretary-General and Executive Secretary, ECA said the continent is particularly susceptible because a large percentage of its urban population is concentrated in slums or informal dwellings. In addition, only few African households have access to basic handwashing facilities, essential preventive measures on the spread of the disease.

According to the latest figures from the WHO, Africa has about 90,000 cases of Covid-19 with 2,900 deaths. South Africa, the most industrialised on the continent, conducts about 16,000 tests daily while Nigeria with more than three times the population of South Africa has conducted less than 40,000 tests since the outbreak of the pandemic. The number of deaths on the continent represents less than one per cent fatalities worldwide even though Africa accounts for about 14 per cent of the world’s population. Experts are of the view that the low number of tests, a mere fraction compared to those in the developed countries, is masking the true picture of the crisis. Nigeria is a typical evidence.

Indeed, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) last week raised concerns that the “smart testing” option adopted by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has not revealed the real incidence of the virus in the country. The NMA opted for a “a fast -tracking of testing using innovative specimen collection and transport modalities to ameliorate this deficit in technique.”

Besides, there is the need to create more awareness among the populace and reinforce measures instituted to contain community spread of the disease. Since the lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory was partially lifted, many people have been crowding public places with little regard to social distancing and other directives of government and health authorities. Despite the Presidential order banning interstate travels, many still indulge in the risky business. The uncontrolled movement of some Almajiri across the country is a case in point. Some states in the South east recorded their index cases of Covid-19 during the course of the lockdown. The situation is not helped by the uncoordinated management of the pandemic as evidenced in the confused orders and counter-orders across the country.
This is why we welcome the public enlightenment campaign of the Lagos State government to strengthen the advocacy on physical distancing and other preventive measures in communities to engender compliance with directives on Covid-19. Even with the limited number of cases, bed spaces are increasingly becoming scarce and many of the health professionals we can boast of are being consumed by the pandemic.

Already, Covid-19 has diverted attention and funds from other major health issues like malaria, malnutrition and AIDS which kill hundreds of thousands of Africans yearly. Only last week, the federal government expressed concern on the steep decline in the number of outpatient population of non-Covid-19 ailments in hospitals nationwide. The time has come for the states to act collectively to mitigate the crisis as well as the depressing projections by the World health body.