GENEVA - The World Health Organization warns that COVID-19 is spreading at an alarming rate in rural areas of Africa and says urgent help is needed to strengthen the continent’s fragile health system.
The WHO has confirmed more than 8,300 cases of coronavirus in Africa, including nearly 400 deaths. That figure pales compared to the number of cases elsewhere. Latest global figures put the number of coronavirus cases at more than 1.6 million, with deaths now topping 100,000.
However, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warns of a spate of cases and deaths that will be hard to control unless African countries get international support to shore up their health care systems.
“We are now seeing clusters of cases and community spread in more than 16 countries,” he said. “We anticipate severe hardship for already overstretched health systems, particularly in rural areas, which normally lack the resources of those in cities.”
On a slightly happier note, Tedros said the coronavirus pandemic appears to be slowing in some of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, including Spain, Italy, Germany and France.
They are among a number of countries globally that have imposed tight restrictions, including self-isolation and social distancing, to stop transmission of the virus. Tedros noted those measures appear to be working.
But he worries that some countries already are planning on lifting the restrictions.
“WHO wants to see restrictions lifted as much as anyone,” he said. “At the same time, lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence. The way down can be as dangerous as the way up if not managed properly.”
WHO chief Tedros says a number of factors must be in place before restrictions are lifted. For example, he said, countries must make sure transmission of the virus is controlled, medical services are available, outbreaks in special settings such as nursing homes are minimized, and importation risks are minimized.
Tedros said every person has a role to play in ending the pandemic. That means governments must ensure communities are fully aware and committed to lifting restrictions before they move ahead.