Only one in seven cases of coronavirus has been diagnosed in Africa, Dr. Matsidisho Moeti, regional director of the World Health Organization (WHO), assured this Thursday. In other words, the 85% of infections have gone unnoticed and do not appear in official statistics. This underdiagnosis assumes that the covid – 19 would have affected some 60 millions of people, 5% of the African population. WHO estimates indicate that mortality has also been underestimated, with only one in three deaths, which rises to about 650. 000 the real dead.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic we have been concerned about the problem of underdiagnosis, because this prevents us from knowing with certainty how and where the disease has been transmitted,” said Dr. Moeti, who assured that the WHO has used various methods to estimate the real impact of the covid – 19. “Up to 85% of the cases have been asymptomatic because we have a very young population. Added to this is that even 20 countries have not even reached 15 test for each 10. 000 population. To cut the transmission of the disease we have to go on the offensive, from passive to active surveillance “, added the WHO regional director.
” The way we have known the numbers of Underdiagnosis has been through prevalence studies, while with regard to lethality we have been able to verify anomalous increases in mortality in certain places where we know that the virus has circulated ”, assured Dr. Thierno Baldé, deputy head of emergency intervention of the African WHO. With the aim of detecting more cases and not only those that reach public health systems, the world health organization has begun a pilot project to implement rapid tests that give the results in 15 minutes in eight countries.
Lack of access to vaccines
Meanwhile, vaccination is progressing very slowly in Africa compared to the rest of the world. Currently only 4, 96% of the population is vaccinated thanks to the 166 million doses administered, according to figures from the African Union Centers for Disease Control. Morocco leads the statistics with 42, 5 million vaccines that have already fully covered the 54% of its inhabitants, while South Africa, the country officially with the most cases on the continent, has immunized the 20% of its population with about 20 millions of vaccines. At the end of September only 15 countries, including Seychelles, Mauritius, Tunisia, Cape Verde or Comoros, had exceeded the barrier of 10%, the target that the WHO had marked.
Behind the very low percentage of continental vaccination there are three main factors. In the first place, the lack of doses due to the hoarding of them by rich countries, which in some cases have begun to implement the third prick while in territories such as the African continent more than 25 countries do not even reach 2% of their population. Two nations, Eritrea and Burundi, have not administered a single vaccine. Not even the public-private initiative Covax, which has already admitted that it will not reach its goal of 2. million worldwide doses in 2021, has been able to compensate for this imbalance.
Another relevant factor to explain the low vaccination rate is related to the logistical problems of transport and cold chain in the nations with fewer resources, as well as the difficulties to register. Dr Richard Mihigo, head of vaccination at WHO Africa, admits that they have had to change strategy and be more proactive. And, finally, there is the rejection of a part of the population to be vaccinated, motivated by the generalized perception that the pandemic has had a limited impact, especially in serious cases and deaths.
“Those who they reject vaccines, they do so because there have been communication problems, but there is also fear of side effects and false information about sterility and others, “said Dr. Moeti on Thursday, who launched a strong message in this regard. “These vaccines, although authorized for emergencies, have been sufficiently tested and not only protect the person against the disease, but by putting it on, they protect their family, their community and their country. This rejection has terrible consequences in the elderly and vulnerable people, with other pathologies; getting vaccinated is a duty, ”he said.
The low vaccination rates and the hidden circulation of the disease mean that the authorities do not lower their guard, although in the last week, with 42. 000 cases, many countries show downward trends or have stabilized with exceptions such as Angola, Gabon and Cameroon. “We are not facing the end of the pandemic,” Moeti insisted. For his part, Senegalese doctor Aly Ngon Tambdou, who participates in the response to the covid – 19, warned about an excess of relaxation. “Prophylactic measures must be maintained, but this must be accompanied by good communication,” he said.