Coronavirus: What’s Happening To The Numbers In Africa?

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The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says there has been a slight increase in Covid-19 infections in Africa over the past month.

The number of new daily confirmed cases has started rising after declining since mid-July, although in some countries cases are still on a downward trend. We’ve been looking at what is happening to the pandemic in Africa in more detail.

What’s happened to the numbers?

Over the four weeks up to 21 October, there was a 4% average increase in new cases, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). There were average increases over the month across all the regions except in West Africa.

Looking at the populous countries on the continent, while there was a decline in new cases in Nigeria over the period there were increases in Ethiopia, Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa and Kenya.

The head of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control says the low numbers reported in the country can be attributed to a drop in testing caused by the curfew imposed in some of the states following anti-police brutality protests.

According to the Ministry of Health, the deceased was admitted to Platinum hospital on Friday, July 24, 2020, at about 5:00 pm after she presented with COVID-19 symptoms of cough, fever, chest pain and difficulty in breathing.

“Most of our testing 60% (is done in Lagos), 40% to 60% of the cases in Nigeria are reported from Lagos. Our labs in Lagos have not been able to perform as they normally would for the past two to three weeks,” Nigeria CDC’s Chikwe Ihekweazu says.

Kenya has also been experiencing a steep increase in new cases, and the country’s health minister warns the country could be headed for a second wave of infections. Data from Africa CDC shows over the past month, cases on average increased by 42%.

Countries which have experienced the highest rate of decrease in new cases include Central African Republic, the Gambia, Madagascar, Namibia and Eswatini.

The number of new deaths reported declined by 17% during the seven days ending 21 October compared to the previous period.

The Africa CDC’s John Nkengasong says the recent rise in numbers of reported deaths could have been due to an improvement in some countries’ ability to document deaths from coronavirus.

There’s evidence for this in South Africa, where an on-going audit of Covid-19 deaths reported additional deaths, which did not appear to have been previously accounted for.

Which countries were most affected?

South Africa has the highest recorded number of total cases and reported deaths in Africa so far. Daily reported numbers have been stable after falling for about three months although there have been some spikes in some provinces.

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Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize has warned that the country could be experiencing an rise in positive cases in some provinces.

The Western Cape Province – where Cape Town is located – recorded a 42% increase in cases during the seven days ending 21 October. One of the cluster of cases reported was linked to a “super-spreader” event at a bar in Cape Town.

“We define this significant spike in new cases in the Western Cape as resurgence,” the minister says.

There had been concern that the country could be missing some cases. Research from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) indicates that the number of people who had died from the virus could have been higher than was reported.

It shows excess deaths – the difference between deaths over a particular period and the historical average – rose by 46,759 between May and mid-October.

The council says the number of estimated excess deaths is declining as the number of confirmed Covid-19 deaths, which would indicate that a significant proportion of the excess deaths is attributable to Covid-19.

However, the reported death rate per capita on the continent has been low compared with other parts of the world, despite the poor health infrastructure in many African countries.

The WHO says this could be partly because of the relatively young population in Africa – more than 60% under the age of 25. Covid-19 is known to have a higher mortality rate for older age groups, and among people health problems like obesity and type 2 diabetes which are also less common in Africa.

According to the study, there were similar long lasting side effects discovered in those who recovered from the devastating Spanish flu in 1918, in which up to one million people probably suffered brain damage.

Experts also say expertise in epidemic control from tackling other outbreaks, cross-immunity from other coronaviruses, low travel and outdoor living could also be contributing to Africa coping better.

In terms of what proportion of people who get Covid-19 go on to die, there were 12 African countries with rates comparable with or higher than the global average rate of 2.9% on 15 October.

How much testing is done in Africa?

The WHO says the testing level in Africa is still very low compared to other regions.

“Most African countries are focused on testing travellers, patients or contacts, and we estimate that a significant number of cases are still missed,” says the WHO’s Matshidiso Moeti.

Ten countries account for about 75% of the total tests conducted – South Africa, Morocco, Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Rwanda, Uganda and Ghana.

There are wide variations in testing rates, with South Africa doing the most and Nigeria doing relatively few per capita, according to Our World in Data, a UK-based project which collates Covid-19 information.

By 22 October, South Africa had done just over 78 tests per 1,000 people, but that compares with more than 394 in the UK and 424 in the US.

Nigeria had carried out just 3 tests per 1,000 people by 26 October. About half of the countries on the continent have a ratio lower than the benchmark of doing at least 10 tests for every positive case recommended by the Africa CDC.

And in some countries, there’s insufficient data available on testing to know how much is being done.


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