First Case of Coronavirus Confirmed in Africa: is a Major Outbreak On Its Way?
Africa has confirmed its first case of coronavirus (Covid-19) in Egypt, after a foreign national tested positive. A statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Health said the patient – who did not show any serious symptoms – has already been quarantined.
Africa is not Adequately Prepared for Coronavirus
In a continent that lacks adequate facilities to detect and diagnose the virus, the Egyptian case should ring alarm bells. Some analysts have even argued that coronavirus could have already entered Africa a while back but gone unreported because of the continent’s weak medical infrastructure.
In its response plan, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has singled out 13 African countries that it considers highly vulnerable because of their close contacts with China. They include Angola, Algeria, Cote D’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Uganda.
WHO Emergency Ops Manager: Africa is ‘Already Overwhelmed by Many Outbreaks’
“We all know fragile health systems in the continent, they are already overwhelmed by many outbreaks. For us, it is critical to detect coronavirus earlier so that we can prevent it spreading within communities that can trigger a number of cases that can overwhelm the treatment capacity,” said Michel Yao, WHO Africa programme manager for emergency operations.
Until two weeks ago only Senegal and South Africa had the capacity of testing and confirming the virus. To ensure that more countries were better equipped to deal with it, last week scientists from 17 countries met in Senegal for training at the Pasteur Institute in Dakar.
Boosting Coronavirus Preparedness in Africa
In addition, the WHO has also sent kits to 29 laboratories in various African countries to ensure they have the capacity to detect the virus and also deal with referral cases from other countries. Among the countries that are now capable of dealing with the virus are Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Madagascar. The target is to boost diagnosis capabilities of 36 African countries by the end of February.
But in spite of the measures that are being put in place, fears are growing as to what could await Africa due to its vulnerability. Bill Gates said that almost 10 million people could be killed by the virus in Africa.
Speaking at the AAAS meeting in Seattle, the Microsoft founder said, “This is a huge challenge. We have always known that the potential for either a naturally caused or intentionally caused pandemic is one of the few things that could disrupt health systems and economies and cause more than 10 million excess deaths.”
Amid the growing anxiety and fear, scientists have come out to offer their own analysis on the impact of the virus on Africa. In a recent telephone call organized by CLSA, Professor John Nicholls of the University of Hong Kong said there are very low chances of coronavirus (Covid-19) surviving in Africa and Australia. “Three things the virus does not like: sunlight, temperature, and humidity,” the expert said in response to a question on whether there will be a spike in cases of coronavirus.
“Sunlight will cut the virus’s ability to grow in half so the half-life will be 2.5 minutes and in the dark it’s about 13 to 20 minutes,” he added.
Regarding temperatures Nicholls said that high temperatures are key in stopping the spread of coronavirus.
Holding similar views is Yap Boum of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) who told DW: “When the season is warmer and more humid, the droplets transmitting the flu virus tend to fall out of the air more quickly therefore limiting its transmission.” However, he urged caution by warning that it is still too early to know if Covid-19 is transmitted in the same way.
Professor Paul Hunter of University of East Anglia also believes that there won’t be a major outbreak in Africa.“I doubt we will see a big outbreak in Africa. Droplet diseases don’t seem to be as big an issue in Africa,” he said.
However, Nicholls doesn’t consider SARS to be a perfect comparison of the current Wuhan Covid-19. Instead he compares the Covid-19 to a severe case of common cold. “Compared to SARS, we are talking about a coronavirus that has a mortality rate of eight to 10 times less deadly to SARS,” he said. “So a correct comparison is not SARS or MERS but a severe cold. Basically, this is a severe form of the cold.”