New WHO estimates: Up to 190 000 people could die of COVID-19 in Africa if not controlled

COVID-19 – Africa

New WHO estimates: Up to 190 000 people could die of COVID-19 in Africa if not controlled
07 May 2020
Brazzaville – Eighty-three thousand to 190 000 people in Africa could die of COVID-19 and 29 million to 44 million could get infected in the first year of the pandemic if containment measures fail, a new study by the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa finds. The research, which is based on prediction modelling, looks at 47 countries in the WHO African Region with a total population of one billion.

The new estimates are based on modifying the risk of transmission and disease severity by variables specific to each country in order to adjust for the unique nature of the region. The model predicts the observed slower rate of transmission, lower age of people with severe disease and lower mortality rates compared to what is seen in the most affected countries in the rest of the world. This is largely driven by social and environmental factors slowing the transmission, and a younger population that has benefitted from the control of communicable diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis to reduce possible vulnerabilities.

The lower rate of transmission, however, suggests a more prolonged outbreak over a few years, according to 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.

Containment measures, which include contact tracing, isolation, improved personal hygiene practices and physical distancing aim to slow down the transmission of the virus so its effects happen at a rate manageable by the health system. Physical distancing is not about the confinement of people but rather avoiding unnecessary contacts as people live, work and socialize as a means to interrupt transmission.

“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 predicted number of cases that would require hospitalization would overwhelm the available medical capacity in much of Africa. 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. Such a huge number of patients in hospitals would severely strain the health capacities of countries…