By Esther Nakkazi
The African region has seen a steady decline in new COVID-19 cases over the past two months, the World Health Organisation reports. Starting 20 July to September 20th, 77,147 new cases were reported, down from 131,647 recorded from May 20th to mid-July. Deaths attributed to COVID-19 have also remained low in the region.
The cases are also mostly among people below 60 years of age who contribute to about 91% of COVID-19 infections in sub-Saharan Africa and over 80% of cases are asymptomatic, the WHO has observed. The pandemic has largely been in a younger age group and has been more pronounced in a few countries, suggesting country-specific aspects are driving the pattern of disease and death.
“The downward trend that we have seen in Africa over the past two months is undoubtedly a positive development and speaks to the robust and decisive public health measures taken by governments across the region,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
The decline over the past two months have been attributed to a variety of socio-ecological factors such as low population density and mobility, hot and humid climate, lower age group as well as early and strong public health measures taken by governments across the region. Even in the most-affected countries including Algeria, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, and Senegal infections are dropping every week over the past two months.
By 20th September, twenty-nine countries recorded a decrease in new cases, with 20 of them registering a decrease of more than 20%; Sao Tome and Principe (89%), Mauritius (75%), Botswana (69%), Seychelles (67%), Lesotho (61%), Senegal (55%), Malawi (47%), Mauritania (46%), Liberia (44%), Gambia (39%), Rwanda (38%), Ghana (37%), Zambia (34%), Burundi (33%), Burkina Faso (30%), Côte d’Ivoire (30%), Zimbabwe (28%), Namibia (27%), Sierra Leone (23%) and Eswatini (20%). Only Eritrea and the United Republic of Tanzania did not officially submit any report.
As of 22 September 2020, a cumulative total of 1,149 940 COVID-19 cases was reported in the region, including 1,149, 939 confirmed, with one probable case reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. South Africa has consistently registered more than half, 58% (663,282) of all, reported confirmed cases in the region.
The other countries that have reported large numbers of cases are Ethiopia (70,422), Nigeria (57 613), Algeria (50,214), Ghana (46,062), Kenya (37,218), Cameroon (20,690), Côte d’Ivoire (19,327), Madagascar (16,136) and Senegal (14,759). These 10 countries collectively account for 87% (995 723) of all reported cases.
However, WHO has warned Africa against complacency as other regions of the world that have experienced similar trends find that as social and public health measures are relaxed, cases start ramping up again. In recent weeks, Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire which are among the countries that have recorded a decline in infections since mid-July, have seen a slight increase in cases. In most African countries schools are beginning to open and lockdowns have been lifted which could see a resurge in cases.
“Africa has not witnessed an exponential spread of COVID-19 as many initially feared,” said Dr. Moeti. “But the slower spread of infection in the region means we expect the pandemic to continue to smolder for some time, with occasional flare-ups.”
WHO still cautions that It is crucial that countries maintain public health measures that have helped curb the spread of COVID-19 to limit further infections and deaths.
“The response in African countries needs to be tailored to each country’s situation moving forward as we see different patterns of infection even within a country. Targeted and localized responses that are informed by what works best in a given region of a country will be most crucial as countries ease restrictions and open up their economies. Blanket approaches to the region or countries are not feasible,” Dr. Moeti said.
References: A virtual press conference on 23 September organized by APO Group.