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Opinions of Saturday, 26 September 2020

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

Good news about coronavirus in Africa

Good news is so rare in the world – but particularly in Africa – that we must breathe a sigh of relief (whilst crossing our fingers!) that the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that “social and environmental factors” have contributed to give Africa a relatively “low” number of COVID-19 cases.

According to the WHO Africa Regional Office in Brazzaville, “COVID-19 transmission in Africa has been marked by relatively fewer infections. Also, infections “have been on the decline over the past two months.” This is due to “a variety of socio-ecological factors, as well as early and strong public health measures taken by African governments.”

The WHO report adds: QUOTE “The pandemic has largely been in a younger age group and has been more pronounced in a few countries, suggesting [that] country-specific aspects are driving the pattern of disease and death. About 91% of COVID-19 infection in sub-Saharan Africa are among people below 60 years, and over 80% of cases are asymptomatic.

“....Low population density and mobility, hot and humid climate, lower age group, interacting to accentuate their individual effects, are likely [to be] contributing to the pattern seen in Africa. Since 20 July, the region has seen a steady decline in new COVID-19 cases. Over the past four weeks, 77,147 new cases were reported, down from 131,647 recorded in the previous four weeks.

“Some of the most-affected countries including Algeria, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa, have all seen infections drop every week over the past two months. Deaths attributed to COVID-19 have also remained low.” UNQUOTE

The WHO explains that the “downward trend” 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.”

The figures given for the “downward trend” are almost miraculous – “77, 147 new cases were reported, down from 131,647 recorded in the previous four weeks. That works out, in percentage terms, to nearly a fifty percent reduction in the infection rate in just four weeks. African Governments and their people deserve a lot of credit for this spectacular reduction in the number of cases.

However, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, took pains to warn that “we must not become complacent. Other regions of the world” (she pointed out) “have experienced similar trends, only to find that as social and public health measures are relaxed, cases start ramping up again.”

“The region’s statistics on testing have been useful for policy, [because] they reflect the patterns of infection within a country,” the report adds. The “missed COVID-19 cases”, it point out, “are largely because they are asymptomatic. In addition, there is no evidence of miscalculation of death figures, which are more difficult to miss statistically.”

Dr Moeti went on: “Africa has not witnessed an exponential spread of COVID-19, as many initially feared. … But the slower spread of infection... means we expect the pandemic to continue to smoulder for some time, with occasional flare-ups.”

For instance (Dr Moeti revealed) 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 recent weeks. It is crucial therefore that countries maintain public health measures that have helped curb the spread of COVID-19 .

Dr Moeti concluded: “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.”

WHO has reaffirmed that it is “continuing to support countries to scale up public health response, particularly in high-risk locations”. As a testimony to that commitment, the organisation held a “virtual press conference” at which Dr Moeti was joined by some of the best experts on COVID-19.

They included Professor Francisca Mutapi, Professor in Global Health Infection and Immunity, University of Edinburgh; Professor Mark Woolhouse, Professor in infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh; and Dr Sam Agatre Okuonzi of Arua Regional Referral Hospital in Uganda.

While we in Africa must be careful not to let our guard down because of the good figures we are recording regarding our fight against the Virus, some of the world's media are not holding their horses. Ghana's President, Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo-Addo, in particular, has been singled out for high praise on the Internet. Medium.com says that the leadership he has shown, not only in enacting measures to curb the disease but also, in taking the trouble, in an election year, to broadcast a total of seventeen times (so far) to share with his people, the true COVID-19 situation, are note-worthy.

The writer of the article said: “As The Lancet wrote, ‘according to WHO, Africa is the least affected region globally, with 1.5% of the world’s reported COVID-19 cases and 0.1% of the world’s deaths.’ This is not just luck. Yes, the continent has some advantages (youth; being under a de-facto travel ban). But those advantages only buy you time.... The main advantage Africa had was that the African people used their time wisely. Within the African Union, Ghana stands out....

[Ghana has proved that in this battle against Covid] “we just have our brains and our ability to cooperate. We have no cure. That’s why leadership matters.”

We must ensure therefore that the measures we took on the basis of good sense will continue. For only thus can Ghana avoid a new “spike” in the onslaught of the pandemic.

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