Over the past two months, COVID-19 cases in the African region have steadily increased, underscoring the need for strengthened public health measures to avert an increase in infections, especially as people gather or travel for end-of-year celebrations.
In the 47 countries of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the African region , an average of 46 000 cases per week have been reported since mid-October, compared to about 29 000 cases per week between early September and early October. The highest number of cases was registered by ten countries in the region, accounting for 88 percent of new cases in the past month. However over the past four weeks, seven countries have reported a steady decrease in cases.
Some of the reasons behind the upsurge in cases are increased movement and contacts and slack observance of public health interventions such as physical distancing and wearing masks. The increase in infections has also led to events such as political demonstrations or in near settings such as schools.
Dr Richard Mihigo, the Immunization and Vaccine Development Programme Coordinator at WHO Regional Office for Africa said that “The rising COVID-19 infections and the holiday season present a worrying mix,” . “Preventive measures must be tightened up to not only limit the risks of infections during the festive season but stand as permanent barriers against the spread of COVID-19. In the battle against this pandemic, complacency has no place.
Although COVID-19 response, including diagnosis, has been improved in many countries, testing remains poor across the region. Just eight countries have reached the crucial benchmark of conducting at least 10 tests per 10,000 population per week in the past four weeks. Testing is essential to understanding and directing response to the pandemic trend.
Over the recent months, lockdowns and travel restrictions instituted by several governments in the region have been eased. To improve COVID-19 response as cases are identified in several locations, WHO is encouraging countries to carry out evaluations at the subnational level and recognise high-risk areas so that local governments can change their public health policies accordingly and be flexible in their decision-making.
“It is a very difficult balancing act to try to revive economies and livelihoods devastated by the pandemic while trying to limit the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr Nsenga Ngoy, Manager of the Emergency Response Program at the WHO Regional Office for Africa. But we cannot adequately stress how important it is not to let our guards down. By doubling our efforts, the probability of a rise in cases in the coming weeks can be avoided.
WHO continues to assist countries in sustaining effective public health policies, decentralizing responses and growing preparedness for the implementation of vaccines for COVID-19 as soon as they become available.
Today, Dr. Mihigo and Dr. Ngoy talked at a WHO press conference. They were joined by Mr Thabani Maphosa, Managing Director of Country Programmes, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.