As many as 190,000 people across Africa could die in the first year of the coronavirus pandemic if crucial containment measures fail, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns.
The new research which is based on prediction modelling also predicts a prolonged outbreak over a few years.
The study finds that between 29 million and 44 million people in the WHO African region could get infected in the first year of the pandemic. Between 83,000 and 190,000 could die in the same period, it warns.
The estimates are based on prediction modelling, and focus on 47 countries in the WHO African region with a combined population of one billion – Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and Djibouti are not included.
According to the study, the lower rate of transmission in Africa suggests a more prolonged outbreak over a few years.
“While COVID-19 likely won’t spread as exponentially in Africa as it has elsewhere in the world, it likely will smoulder in transmission hotspots,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa. “COVID-19 could become a fixture in our lives for the next several years unless a proactive approach is taken by many governments in the region. We need to test, trace, isolate and treat.”
The study which also revealed that smaller African countries alongside Algeria, South Africa and Cameroon were at a high risk if containment measures are not prioritized.
A survey of health services in the African region undertaken in March 2020 based on self-reports by 47 countries to WHO revealed that there were on average nine intensive care unit beds per one million people. These would be woefully inadequate. Additionally, the physical access to these services to the general population is very low, suggesting many people would not even have the chance to get to the needed care. Diseases that could be managed could easily become more complicated as a result.
There would be an estimated 3.6 million – 5.5 million COVID-19 hospitalizations, of which 82,000 -167,000 would be severe cases requiring oxygen, and 52 000-107 000 would be critical cases requiring breathing support.
The predicted number of cases that would require hospitalization would overwhelm the available medical capacity in much of Africa.
The study recommends that countries across Africa need to expand the capacity particularly of primary hospitals and ensure that basic emergency care is included in primary health systems.
Covid-19 in Africa
Across the whole of the African continent more than 2,000 coronavirus deaths have been recorded by Africa’s Centre for Disease Control.
Cases have been recorded in every African nation except Lesotho.
South Africa has the highest number of confirmed cases – more than 8,200 and 160 deaths – while Algeria has the most deaths – 483.