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WHO ‘very concerned’ as Covid-19 gains momentum in Africa

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'South Africa may be a precursor ... It may be a warning for what will happen in the rest of Africa."

A boy wearing a face mask carries a small bowl of "githeri", or mixed beans and maize, to eat as he walks past a mural warning people about the risk of the coronavirus, painted by graffiti artists from the Mathare Roots youth group, in the Mathare slum, of Nairobi, Kenya. Picture: Brian Inganga / AP

COUNTRIES in Africa need urgent help to build up their health systems as the novel coronavirus has been spreading rapidly in sub-Saharan Africa in recent days, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official has warned.

Although the number of cases in several countries is still low, the rate of increase had been very high last week, WHO emergency operations chief Mike Ryan said, highlighting Namibia with 69 percent, Botswana with 66 percent and Zambia with 57 percent.

“I am very concerned right now that we are beginning to see an acceleration of disease in Africa, and we need to take that very seriously,” Ryan told a press briefing from Geneva on Monday. “Many of those countries exist in the midst of fragility and conflict.”

With more than 360 000 Covid-19 cases and more than 5 000 related deaths, South Africa has been hit the hardest and accounts for 61 percent of Africa’s pandemic burden.

Ryan said that last week’s increase of around 30 percent in South Africa was very significant in terms of absolute numbers, but still slower than other countries in the region.

While the novel coronavirus initially affected wealthier communities in South Africa, it has now established itself in poorer and rural areas, according to Ryan.

“South Africa may unfortunately be a precursor,” he said. “It may be a warning for what will happen in the rest of Africa.”

– dpa