The AU’s Dr John Nkengasong expressed fears that the pandemic in Africa is only just beginning.
The head of the African Union Center for Disease Control (CDC), Dr John Nkengasong, yesterday told reporters COVID-19 poses “an existential threat” to Africa.
The CDC announced on Twitter that the number of COVID-19 cases in Africa today reached 7,028. The pandemic has now reached 50 of the continent’s 54 countries.
North Africa remains the hardest hit region with 3,030 confirmed cases. According to the CDC statistics, Algeria has reported a total of 847 cases and 83 fatalities. Egypt currently reports 779 confirmed cases, and a total of 58 patients have died after contracting the virus.
Morocco, meanwhile, today reported 27 new confirmed cases bringing the current total to 735. The kingdom has also reported 47 deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic.
Tunisia has reported 423 cases, while Mauritania is the least affected country in the region with a total of five confirmed diagnoses.
South Africa has the highest number of cases in Africa, with 1,462 and has imposed strict lockdown measures to curb the spread of the pandemic.
Though the number of fatalities in South Africa remains relatively low at only five, the country is mourning the death of world-renowned HIV scientist Gita Ramjee who died from complications relating to the virus.
Deputy President of South Africa David Mabuza released a statement to honor the scientist. “The passing of Prof Ramjee comes as a huge blow to the entire healthcare sector and the global fight against HIV/Aids,” he said.
The number of COVID-19 cases in West Africa has now reached 1,303. Burkina Faso (288), Ghana (204), Senegal (195), and Cote d’Ivoire (194) are the most impacted countries in the region.
East Africa has reported 602 cases, and Central Africa has a current total of 553.
Governments must act quickly
The World Health Organization warned last week the true number of cases in Africa could be much higher than currently reported.
On March 20, WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidio Moeti urged African governments to step up their responses to the crisis.
“It is what is done at this point that will determine the numbers who will become very ill,” he said, calling for a collaborative international response to the pandemic.
At a press conference on April 2, the CDC’s Dr Nkengasong said the response from governments and international actors has been positive.
“We’ve seen a lot of goodwill expressed to supporting Africa from bilateral and multilateral partners,” he said.
The health experts added, however, that the pledges now need to be “translated into concrete action.”
More and more countries are reaching out to other AU member states for help as the crisis worsens in Africa. Nkengasong said Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, and Burkina Faso have all asked the CDC to help with procuring tents and hospital beds.
Dr Nkengasong added that African governments are actively looking to secure the equipment needed to fight the pandemic, and many are “aggressively” sourcing ventilators and other vital medical equipment.
Last week WHO’s Moeti said the organization is actively trying to collate the number of ventilators available in each African country in order to identify and fill gaps.
While WHO could not give a definite total, Moeti said she is certain there is a large discrepancy between needs and availability.
Now is not the time to forget existing issues
The CDC health chief ended the press conference with a call to arms, warning that the socio-economic issues already existing in Africa will only worsen as the pandemic spreads through vulnerable populations.
He asked civil society actors and international NGOs not to direct all their aid at the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our greatest fear,” Nkengasong said, is that NGOs and aid workers will channel their support away from the long term issues on the continent.
“The time to advocate for those programs is not when COVID is over. The time is now,” he warned.
Nkengasong’s comments echo the call from international NGO Save the Children to continue supporting at-risk populations during this time of crisis.
On March 27, UK Save the Children Chief Executive Kevin Watkins said even before the spread of the pandemic, every year “millions of children die as a result of the inability of their parents to get treatment for basic diseases like malaria, sepsis and diarrhoea.”
“Over 800,000 children die from pneumonia alone, many of them because there is no medical oxygen available,” he underlined.
In order to support health services already at a breaking point, Watkin emphasized, countries across the globe need to unite to support vulnerable populations as the pandemic spreads further into Africa.