A recent study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that the true number of COVID-19 infections in Africa could be as much as 97 times more than the official statistics.
Since Africa saw its first case in Egypt in mid-February, 2020, there have been some 11,360,305 cases and over 250,000 deaths – relatively few compared with other regions according to statistics from the African Centre for Disease Control COVID-19 dashboard.
A report released Thursday by WHO suggested that some 800 million people could have already been infected in Africa by last September. This is at least two thirds of the people living on the continent with over 1.3 billion population.
A report by Aljazeera said the global body suggested that the official statistics were “likely only scratching the surface of the real extent of coronavirus infections in Africa.”
“A new meta-analysis of standardised sero-prevalence study revealed that the true number of infections could be as much as 97 times higher than the number of confirmed reported cases,” said WHO Africa boss, Matshidiso Moeti.
“This suggests that more than two-thirds of all Africans have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus,” she added.
According to the WHO report, about 150 studies published between January 2020 and December 2022 were analysed, indicating exposure to the virus jumped from just three per cent in June 2020 to 65 per cent by September 2021.
“In real terms, this means that in September 2021, rather than the reported 8.2 million cases, there were 800 million,” said Ms Moeti.
The global average of true infection numbers is believed to be 16 times higher than the number of confirmed reported cases, the study estimated.
Almost 500 million infections have been recorded across the globe as of Saturday afternoon, data from worldometer.info showed. Over 6.2 million people have died from the pandemic.
WHO said the study built on previous ones and a consensus in the global health community that Africa’s poor testing regime for COVID-19 masks the true spread and severity of the disease on the continent.
In the pandemic’s early days of 2020, a case modeling had suggested that cases on the continent could be much higher than what was being reported due to undetected infections.
Africa’s relatively early successes in combating the spread of the virus were notable, and the number of cases has not risen as quickly as any other region in the world.
But widespread under testing reported across the continent is undermining any progress made, health experts say. They believe cases could be going undetected even with the wide variations in testing policies across the 54 countries on the continent.
Statistics from the Africa CDC shows that 103,710,049 tests have so far been conducted in a continent of over 1.3 billion people.
Even so, there are huge discrepancies between countries.
South Africa has conducted the most tests in Africa with more than 24 million of the country’s over 60 million population screened.
Egypt, where Africa’s index case was detected has tested about 3.6 million of its over 105 million population.
But Nigeria, the continent’s most-populous country with over 200 million people, has conducted only 5 million.
No adverse impact despite poor testing
Meanwhile, inspite of the poor testing figures in Africa, there is no clear evidence to show that undetected infections have led to adverse consequences on the continent compared to other regions of the world.
Africa CDC boss, Ms Moeti, attributed the development to the fact that the majority of people in Africa appear to show no clear symptoms of the disease, “making it difficult to attribute an ailing person to COVID-19.”
Several analyses have also suggested that Africa’s youthful population acted as a watershed against severe illness from the COVID-19.
In Ghana, the WHO study established that young people were infected the most.
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