The number of people who died of COVID-19 in Africa in less than five months has surpassed the West African 11,308 Ebola deaths of 2014-2016.
The World Health Organisation’s Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo, on Wednesday said confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa had surpassed 500,000, even as a total of 11,959 persons have died of the contagion within five months.
It may be recalled that a renowned virologist, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, in March said Ebola virus was more severe and dreadful, compared to COVID-19.
Tomori, also a former president, Nigerian Academy of Science, said, “Neither Ebola virus disease nor COVID-19 is good.
“Certainly, coronavirus is more widespread and has killed more people; but in terms of severity and dread of the diseases, Ebola can be termed ‘superman.’
“This is because, when you see a severe case of Ebola and how the virus turns a sick man into a zombie, then, you will understand that it is extremely serious.
“Remember also that with coronavirus, young and healthy people are less affected, but Ebola virus hits all,” Tomori said.
Again, experts say though Ebola is rare, it has a high mortality rate of about 50 percent (although that rate had ranged from 25 percent to 90 percent in past outbreaks), with the 2014–2016 outbreak in West Africa regarded as the largest Ebola epidemic to occur, as 28,610 people were infected and 11,308 died.
The WHO noted that the number of COVID-19-related deaths has overtaken the 11,308 lives lost in the world’s worst Ebola outbreak in West Africa between 2014 and 2016.
“Cases have more than doubled in 22 countries in the region over the past month. Nearly two-thirds of countries are experiencing community transmission,” the update read in part.
The UN body noted that five countries comprising Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa account for about 42 percent of Africa’s COVID-19 cases, even as South Africa alone accounts for 29 percent of the continent’s total cases.
“However, the accelerating growth trend is not uniform across the continent, with some countries recording a steady rise in cases, indicating a protracted pandemic.
“Eritrea, Gambia, Mali, Seychelles, and Togo are witnessing long doubling times and low growth rates.
“Seychelles had not experienced a case in nearly two months, but in the past week had dozens of new imported cases, linked to crew members of an international fishing vessel,” WHO added.
It said there were also some signs of progress as 10 countries have experienced a downward trend over the past month; noting that although Egypt accounts for 15 percent of cumulative cases, it has seen a decline in the past week.
The WHO Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said, “With more than a third of countries in Africa doubling their cases over the past month, the threat of COVID-19 overwhelming fragile health systems on the continent is escalating.
“So far, the continent has avoided disaster and if countries continue to strengthen key public health measures such as testing, tracing contacts, and isolating cases, we can slow down the spread of the virus to a manageable level,” she said.
According to WHO, 88 percent of COVID-19 infections are among people aged 60 and below, likely due to Africa’s relatively young population.
However, it added that the likelihood of dying from COVID-19 rises with increasing age and the existence of co-morbidities, with the risk of death among patients aged 60 years and above is 10 times higher, compared with those below 60.
“Communities across the continent have a crucial role to play in controlling the pandemic, especially as countries begin easing lockdowns and opening up their borders,” said the WHO Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari.
“As governments continue to implement public health measures, individuals must remain as cautious and vigilant as ever to protect themselves, their families, and their communities. Hand washing, mask use, physical distancing, and other preventative measures are key to controlling transmission, saving lives, and ensuring that already overwhelmed health systems are not stretched to breaking point,” he said.
The UN body noted that as COVID-19 continues to spread, thousands of health workers have also fallen ill.
“Equipping and protecting health workers is one of the central pillars of the COVID-19 response.
“WHO is working to support countries respond to COVID-19 by providing technical guidance, crucial medical equipment, and has remotely trained more than 25,000 health workers.
“WHO has also organized more than 420 shipments of key equipment, including more than 3000 oxygen concentrators, 23,000 GeneXpert diagnostic testing machines, and almost 4 million pieces of personal protective equipment for health care workers,” it stated.