The World Health Organisation (WHO), has said the agency is working to improve testing capacity by shipping a further round of test kits to countries in sub-Saharan Africa even as some countries are relaxing lock downs.
The WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, in a virtual meeting on Twitter on Wednesday said the organisation is working to replenish supplies in the African countries.
She said in the past two weeks, the global agency supplied personal protective equipment and other crucial equipment to countries across Africa.
These supplies were in partnership with the World Food Programme, the African Union, the Africa Centres for Disease Control, the Government of Ethiopia and the Jack Ma Foundation.
Relaxing lock downs in Africa
WHO, in a report on its website titled,’ Coronavirus: African countries start easing COVID-19 confinement measures’, on April 30, said at the emergence of COVID-19, it was a global health threat and African countries were quick to enact public health measures, to slow the spread of the virus.
“Now as some countries begin to ease lock downs, it is important to maintain strong surveillance, case finding and testing among other control measures to halt the pandemic,” the report highlighted.
Ms Moeti, in the meeting, said national and regional lock downs in the African countries helped to slow down the spread of COVID, but it remains a considerable public health threat.
“Lock downs are being eased in some parts of Africa, but we cannot just revert back to how things were before the outbreak. If governments abruptly end these measures, we risk losing the gains countries have made so far against COVID-19,” she said.
Current data reveals that Africa has recorded more than 36 000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 1500 deaths.
Countries in West and Central Africa regions are leading the continent with 11 000 cases confirmed and 300 people dead.
The WHO report revealed that in the week of April 13, cases increased by 113 per cent in Central Africa and 42 per cent in West Africa.
However, the report said the worst fears of public health officials and governments have not yet come to pass. “Africa has so far been spared an explosion in COVID-19 case numbers.
“Prompt action by governments to implement lock downs and physical distancing, alongside effective public health measures to test, trace and treat have slowed down the spread of the virus,” the report further highlighted.
Rwanda on March 21, began its lock down, the first country to do such in the continent. After that, 11 countries have followed, including Nigeria, on March 29.
A further 10 have instituted partial lock downs of cities or high-risk communities.
“Preliminary data indicate that countries that implemented nationwide lock downs found that the weekly increase in the number of new cases fell significantly from a 67% rise in the first week after the lock down to a 27% rise in the second week,” the report said.
Furthermore, the initial analysis indicated that countries which implemented partial and targeted lock downs along with effective public health measures may have been even more effective at slowing down the virus.
“We are still analyzing the data. If further research corroborates our initial findings that targeted lock downs, based on data and accompanied by public health measures contribute to flattening the COVID-19 curve, this could help balance the huge social costs of these measures for countries,” said Ms Moeti.
Countries in Africa are now starting to relax their confinement measures. Ghana was the first to lift its partial lock down in Accra and Kumasi, while Nigeria will begin on May 4, in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun.
President Muhammadu Buhari, while announcing the plan to relax the lock down, said the end of the lock down does not mean the end of the pandemic.
While some essential businesses are being opened, mass gatherings are still not permitted and restrictions on the number of passengers on public transport services remain in place.
The government is continuing to monitor events in COVID-19 hotspots and has stated it will re-establish localized lock downs if needed.
Meanwhile, Ghana is also averaging around 30 COVID-19 tests per 10,000 people per day – the highest in West Africa.
South Africa is also considering easing its confinement measures and has scaled up its testing efforts.
Despite progress made in testing for COVID-19, countries in the WHO African region are averaging nine tests per 10 000 people.