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More COVID-19 Testing in Africa Could Help Contain Future Flareups


FILE - Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization regional director for Africa, June 24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of WHO)

A new World Health Organization initiative is getting under way in Africa to rapidly detect COVID-19 infections to curb transmission and contain future flareups of this deadly disease.

The WHO reports more than 8.4 million cases of COVID-19 in Africa, including 214,000 deaths. However, a new analysis indicates the magnitude of the pandemic on the continent is greatly underestimated.

The assessment finds only one in seven COVID-19 infections is being detected, meaning the true number of cases in Africa could be around 59 million. It estimates a lesser number of deaths, one in three, is being reported.

Given the low vaccination rates on the continent, WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti says it is vitally important to know where and how the virus is circulating in communities.

Currently, only 4.4 percent of the 1.2 billion population is fully vaccinated. “With limited testing, we are still flying blind in far too many communities in Africa. Most tests are carried out on people with symptoms, but much of the transmission is driven by asymptomatic people. Estimates suggest that between 65 and 85 percent of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic. The reported cases we see could therefore just be the tip of the iceberg,” she expressed.

Moeti notes the WHO’s community testing initiative is a radically new approach, and one that should help raise detection rates significantly; adding the world health body is providing $1.8 million to kick off implementation in the eight countries taking part in the pilot project: Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, the Republic of Congo, Senegal, and Zambia.

“Local authorities in hot spot districts will use antigen-detection rapid diagnostic tests, which are reliable, affordable, easy-to-use and provide results in around 15 minutes, so that individuals can quickly know their status…It is expected that more than seven million people will be tested through this new initiative—increasing the testing capacity in each participating country by 40 percent,” she pointed out.

Moeti warns end-of-the year celebrations could usher in a fourth wave of the coronavirus across Africa and the globe.

She also urges wealthy countries that have vaccinated around two-thirds of their populations to share their surplus doses now with people in Africa, rather than next year.

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