By Mary Hearty
African countries have been urged to scale up sustained levels of routine testing, contact tracing and surveillance as they continue to relax social protection measures, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.
This comes after a recent analysis by WHO revealed that available data is likely only scratching the surface of the real extent of corona virus infections in Africa. As of 19th , April, there are about eight million COVID-19 cases and more than 170,000 deaths.
Besides, a new meta-analysis of standardized sero-prevalence studies, currently under peer-review revealed that the true number of infections could be as much as 97 times higher than the number of reported confirmed cases.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa during a media briefing on COVID-19 and other health issues stated that more than two-thirds of Africans have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus, and this compares to the global average where the true number of infections is about 16 times higher than the number of confirmed reported cases.
This new insight into the evolution of the pandemic in Africa has been produced following an analysis of more than 150 studies published between January 2020 and December last year which showed how exposure to the COVID-19 virus skyrocketed from just 3% in June 2020 to 65% by September in 2021.
In real terms, this means that in September 2021, rather than the reported 8.2 million cases, there were in fact 800 million infections.
Dr Moeti noted that it is significant to note that what is influencing this is the testing strategies and the capacity for testing in countries because reported cases and estimated infections based on sero- prevalence surveys were significantly different.
She reaffirmed that the reported cases may not be reflecting infections in Africa as the continent’s focus was very much on testing people who were symptomatic while there were challenges in having access to testing supplies, under representing the true number of people who have been exposed and now infected by the virus.
However, Dr Moeti noted, it is difficult to compare figures for Africa with other regions as many of the studies conducted covered different time periods and indicated that the testing strategies vary greatly across regions.
Studies conducted in Africa than elsewhere are fewer, and the production of accurate data is rather complicated because 67% of people with COVID-19 have no symptoms.
“Continued significant circulation of the COVID-19 virus comes with a heightened risk of more lethal variants that can overwhelm existing variants,” she said.
“And so vaccination against the disease remains the best defense despite people who have been infected enjoying some degree of immunity.”