Coronavirus in Africa: Contained or unrecorded?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that nearly a quarter of a billion Africans could contract coronavirus in the first year of the pandemic, with between 150,000 and 190,000 of them dying.

Africa has had less than 100,000 cases so far, but WHO experts believe the continent will have a prolonged outbreak over a few years - and the huge focus on containing the virus has led to other health issues being neglected.

Here, five BBC reporters give a snapshot of what is happening in their countries:

Congolese 'probably had virus without knowing it'

By Emery Makumeno, Kinshasa

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption DR Congo is grappling with coronavirus and Ebola

The Democratic Republic of Congo confirmed its first case of Covid-19 in early March, but a doctor in the capital, Kinshasa, believes the disease arrived earlier.

"During December and January, I can't remember how many patients came for medical treatment, coughing and with fever and headaches," he said, referring to Covid-19 symptoms listed by the WHO.

"I am convinced that we, the medical staff, have been exposed to coronavirus already, without knowing it, and we have built a sort of immunity," he added.

But DR Congo has carried out few tests to check the Covid-19 status of people, because of a lack of medical equipment.

Countries with successful testing strategies, such as South Korea and Germany, have rapidly reached at least 1% of their population, UK medical journal The Lancet points out.

If equipment is available, many African states could ramp up tests - they did more HIV tests between 1 October and 31 December than the 1% target for Covid-19 testing, The Lancet says.

  • Number of Covid-19 tests done in DR Congo by 18 May: 4,493
  • Tests required to make up 1% of population: 895,614
  • HIV tests done from 1 October to 31 December 2019: 203,859

Sources: Africa CDC; The Lancet

So far, DR Congo has recorded more than 1,600 cases of the virus - the ninth-highest number in Africa, according to WHO.

The first Covid-19 case was detected in La Gombe, the main business district in Kinshasa. The government moved swiftly to introduce a lockdown, but the virus has since spread to seven of the country's 26 provinces - including the mining hub of Lubumbashi.

The outbreak comes at a time when DR Congo - which has poor health services, and has been hit by decades of conflict in the east - is also grappling with an Ebola outbreak. It has killed more than 2,000 people since 2018.

The UN children's agency, Unicef, has also raised concern about a reduction in vaccination rates, saying gains made from immunisation over the past two years could be erased.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hundreds of thousands of children have not been vaccinated

Unicef said vaccinations were already declining at the beginning of this year, and that the effects of coronavirus will make it worse.

Hundreds of thousands of children had not received polio, measles, yellow fever and other vaccines.

DR Congo might lose its polio-free status and there could be a resurgence of other deadly diseases.

Health workers lacked equipment to protect themselves or the children from Covid-19, and parents were afraid to bring them to vaccination centres.

Kenya hospital has 'fewer patients but more corpses'

By Mercy Juma, Nairobi

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption To cover your face become the norm in Kenya

A major public hospital in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, saw an almost 40% increase in respiratory illnesses such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and asthma between December and early March, a doctor who works there told the BBC.

However, the hospital had a sharp decline in such cases since mid-March, said the doctor, who spoke to the BBC on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media, added.

One reason was that the government had imposed a nationwide dusk-to-dawn curfew to contain the spread of coronavirus.

This has resulted in a drop in night-time admissions, but an increase in the number of dead people being brought to the hospital's mortuary, the doctor said.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some people have been desperate to get out of quarantine

People also seemed to be avoiding hospital for fear of being diagnosed with Covid-19 and being sent to quarantine centres, he said.

This is because quarantining has been controversial in Kenya, with the government forcing suspected Covid-19 patients to pay for their own confinement.

The price ranges from $20 (£16) to $100 a night, depending on the centre, though the government has now promised to cover costs at public quarantine centres.

  • Number of Covid-19 tests done in Kenya by 18 May: 44,851
  • Tests required to for 1% of population: 537,713
  • HIV tests done from 1 October to 31 December 2019: 2, 177,170

Sources: Africa CDC; The Lancet


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