Africa has reached 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases, but health experts believe the real figure could be far higher.
The World Health Organization (WHO) called the significant number of new cases a “pivotal moment,” and is urging countries to respond by decentralizing their coronavirus response services, as the virus is accelerating in rural areas.
“We need to turn this around so countries can calibrate their response, ensuring it is most effective, and as cases move into the hinterlands, testing must be decentralized from the capital cities.” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said Thursday.
South Africa is currently reporting a little more than half of all of Africa’s reported cases with 538,184 confirmed cases and just over 9,600 deaths.
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South Africa is fifth in the world for the number of confrimed infections, trailing behind the United States with 4.8 million cases, Brazil with 2.8 million cases, India with nearly 2 million cases and Russia with over 870,000 confirmed cases, yet they are ranked 15th globally in death rates, according to Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
But a report released late last month by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), shows that there are large discrepancies in the number of reported coronavirus-related deaths.
“The numbers have shown a relentless increase — by the second week of July, there were 59 percent more deaths from natural causes than would have been expected,” the SAMRC report said, comparing data from the last two years.
Though some officials have said the spike in “excess deaths” could be due to resources having been pooled to fight the coronavirus, so other diseases like H.I.V. and tuberculosis may be going under-treated.
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South Africa is the continent’s most developed country with the most efficient medical care and testing capabilities, and health experts are worried about the extent that under-testing is occurring across Africa.
“Lack of testing is leading to some under-reporting of COVID-19 cases and preventing us from understanding the full picture of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa,” Moeti said.
The WHO Africa division announced that new cases have increased by more than 20 percent in 16 African nations, and 10 countries account for 89% of new cases reported throughout the continent, over the past two weeks.
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WHO and several U.N. agencies formed a global consortium to focus on getting testing kits and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to 47 countries in Africa.
Even as testing remains low, Africa saw a 40 percent increase in testing in July, and 41 million items of PPE are being sent from China, according to Moeti.