WHO offers to provide technical support to SA as Covid infections rise

Johannesburg is of particular concern given how densely populated the area is, says WHO Africa.
Johannesburg is of particular concern given how densely populated the area is, says WHO Africa.
Image: DENNIZN/123RF

The World Health Organisation in Africa’s growing concern for SA’s rapidly increasing infection rate of Covid-19 has forced it to offer to provide technical support to help curb the spread of the respiratory disease.

In an interview this week, the international organisation's Dr Richard Mihigo said that the offer had been made in light of the surge of infections in SA, which accounts for the largest number of infections on the continent.

As of Friday, SA accounted for 324,000 of the continent's 664,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, putting it at number 6 in the world. On Saturday, the number of new Covid-19 infections tracked in SA over the previous 24 hours was 13,285. This meant SA had the 5th-highest number of cases worldwide, according to statistics on Worldometers. This brought the cumulative number of infections to 350,879.

Mihigo, a programme co-ordinator for immunisation and vaccine development at WHO Africa, said that Johannesburg was of particular concern given how densely populated the area was.

“We will be working through our country office in SA to make sure that there is, number one, a decentralised approach to the outbreak and to make sure that in the provinces, the activities are very well decentralised. Second, to make sure that lifting some of these restrictions is done in a very careful manner to avoid going back to a situation where the country will be forced to reimpose such measures.

“WHO has offered to deploy additional capacity to provide technical support to the SA department of health in trying to provide people who can support the infection prevention control,” Mihigo said.

Mihigo lauded SA’s testing capability — more than two million tests have been conducted — which he said was still severely lacking in most African countries, creating “blind spots”, which made it harder to track infections.

Less than 10 countries on the continent have been able to meet the necessary testing of 100 tests per 10,000 population.

WHO Africa is also concerned with the countries surrounding SA which are starting to record more infections.

“We are seeing some countries where the number of cases is increasing quite rapidly after a sort of slow pace in the beginning.

“The first group is countries which are surrounding SA — countries like Lesotho, Eswatini, Namibia. We have seen a lot of imported cases in Zambia and Malawi and Zimbabwe. Those are the countries that we are working with to make sure they are on high alert because there are many cases that are imported into those countries.

“We have countries like Madagascar that, after a period of calm, have now seen an exponential number of cases leading to locking down again the capital cities.”

The organisation has contracted the services of the SA Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis, which is providing projections for three weeks at a time which are in part guiding WHO Africa’s strategy and advice to countries. Initial projections based on data available in March by the organisation had predicted about 190,000 on the continent in the worst case scenario and 83,000 in the best case.

Other countries which are becoming “hotspots”, are Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal.

Numerous attempts to get hold of the department of health were unsuccessful.

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