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COVID-19 cases hit 1.6m in Africa, says WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO), Regional Office for Africa located in Brazzaville, Congo, says there are over 1.6 million confirmed Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in  Africa.

The UN health agency gave the update in  its regional official Twitter account @WHOAFRO.

WHO stated on its dashboard that there were over 1.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases on the continent, with more than 1.3 million recoveries and 40,000 deaths cumulatively.

South Africa, Ethiopia and Kenya are countries with highest number of reported cases.

According to the dashboard: South Africa reported 708,359 cases and 18, 741 deaths; Ethiopia had  91,118 cases with 1,384 deaths, while Kenya had 46,144  reported cases and 858 deaths.

Meanwhile, WHO Regional Office in a statement posted on its website said that  the new approved antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests for COVID-19 pandemic  in Africa, would significantly boost testing capacity.

The UN health agency said  that many African countries had struggled to test sufficient numbers to control the pandemic, with only 12 in the region reaching a key threshold of 10 tests per 10, 000 people per week, during the past month.

The statement quoted Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, as saying; ”they have also often fallen short when compared to other countries of a similar size in a different region.

”For example, Senegal has significantly boosted its testing capacity, but is testing 14 times less than the Netherlands. Nigeria is testing 11 times less than Brazil.

”The widespread use of high-quality rapid testing in Africa can revolutionise the continent’s response to COVID-19 pandemic. The new, antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests will help meet the huge testing needs in Africa,”.

According to the statement, most countries in the region conduct polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests, the gold standard, which require laboratories, reagents and experts, limiting COVID-19 testing mostly to large cities.

”People can wait from 48 hours to more than 10 days for results, as they are sent for laboratory verification.

”The new rapid tests are easy to use, cheaper than PCR tests and provide the results in just 15 minutes to 30 minutes, enabling countries to decentralise testing,” it said.

The statement quoted Moeti as saying that most African countries were focusing   their attentions on testing travellers, patients or contacts, and  estimate that a significant number of cases are still missed.

”With rapid testing, authorities can stay a step ahead of COVID-19 pandemic , by scaling up active case finding in challenging environments, such as crowded urban neighbourhoods and communities in the hinterlands,” it stated.

WHO stated that  rapid antigen tests were an addition to PCR tests, not a replacement for them, and recommended tests that would be above 80 per cent accurate.

”They are more reliable in patients who are symptomatic, with a high viral load, or a lot of virus in their upper respiratory tracts.

”Currently the two tests which WHO has approved for emergency use are the ‘standard Q COVID-19 Antigen Test by SD Biosensor Inc.’ and the ‘Panbio COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test Device’, manufactured by Abbott.

”They test for proteins produced by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. Bodily fluids are taken from a nasal swab and applied with liquid to a paper strip, where a dye gives the result.

”WHO recommends that rapid antigen tests should be used in four scenarios; in suspected outbreaks where there is no access to PCR testing, including in remote, hard-to-reach areas.

”It can be used to trace the extent of an outbreak where at least one case is detected through PCR, including in close-contact settings, such as prisons, among other high-risk groups like health workers and in areas with widespread community transmission,” it stated.

According to the statement, globally, 120 million of these tests are being made available to low and middle-income countries through the ACT-Accelerator, a coalition launched by WHO and partners, comprising international organisations, the private sector and philanthropy.

It noted that it  aimed  to expedite the development, production and availability of promising tests, vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.

The statement added that  under the umbrella of the ACT-Accelerator, UNITAID, the Global Fund, FIND and the Africa Centres for Disease Control, would distribute the tests in 20 African countries.

WHO is also supporting countries to procure the tests through the supply portal set up by the United Nations.

The health organisation is also working hand in hand with countries and partners to prepare for the roll out of the rapid tests by deploying technical experts, developing a training package.

It would also be issuing key guidance documents with detailed information on which situation and how to use the tests. 

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