OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) – Only one in seven COVID-19 infection in Africa is detected, which means the continent’s estimated level of infection could be 59 million people, according to a new study by the Organization world health.
“With limited testing, we are still flying blind in far too many communities in Africa,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said at a press briefing Thursday.
To get more accurate numbers of infections and better curb transmission, the UN plans to increase rapid diagnostic tests in eight African countries with a goal of testing 7 million people next year.
The initiative is a “radically” new approach that shifts from passive surveillance to active surveillance by working with communities, Moeti said. The rapid tests are affordable, reliable and easy to use and will provide results in 15 minutes, she said. An additional 360,000 cases are expected to be detected using the tests, of which about 75% are asymptomatic or mild, she said.
The initiative will be based on what is called a ring strategy which was used to eradicate smallpox and which was implemented during the Ebola outbreaks. This is called a ring method because it will target people living within 100 meters (110 yards) of new confirmed cases.
Health professionals hailed the approach and said it would help the continent get ahead of the pandemic rather than catch up. Since the start of the epidemic, Africa has recorded more than 8 million cases of COVID-19 and 214,000 deaths, according to the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The rapid tests will also provide those in charge with the data to avoid overwhelming health systems and implementing restrictions that can be “disastrous in terms of economic consequences,” said Ngozi Erondu, senior researcher at the O’Neill Institute. from Georgetown University.
However, the UN has warned that with Africa having millions of undetected cases, there is an urgent need to speed up the continent’s access to vaccines, which are slow to arrive. Immunization rates in Africa are low. Only 30% of the continent’s 54 countries have fully immunized 10% of their population while many high-income countries have achieved immunization rates of nearly 90%, according to the UN
As the year-end trips approach which are expected to lead to an increase in the number of cases, Moeti said African countries should prepare for a possible fourth wave. She urged rich countries to share a significant number of doses with Africa now rather than wait until next year.