Africa coronavirus cases could reach the millions

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Coronavirus cases in Africa could shoot from thousands to 10 million in three to six months according to provisional modelling, a regional World Health Organisation (WHO) official said.

Michel Yao, head of emergency operations for WHO Africa, said it is a tentative projection which could change and noted worst case predictions for the Ebola outbreak had not materialised because people changed behaviour.

“This is still to be fine-tuned,” he told a media teleconference. “It’s difficult to make a long-term estimation because the context changes and public health measures when fully implemented can have an impact.”

The world’s poorest continent has over 17 000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 disease and about 900 deaths so far – relatively little compared to other regions.

There are fears it could balloon and overwhelm shaky health services.

“We are concerned the virus continues to spread geographically, in countries,” said Matshidiso Moeti, director for WHO Africa region, 46 sub-Saharan nations and Algeria.

“The numbers increase every day.”

Infections in South Africa, which has the highest number of cases, slowed after it began a strict lockdown. Other nations like Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Algeria have higher than average fatalities.

The WHO is working with authorities to improve patient care and reduce fatalities, Moeti said.

TRUMP MOVE A BLOW TO AFRICA

She warned President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of US funding for the WHO could harm the fight against other killers including polio, HIV and malaria.

“The impact, potentially, of this decision will be significant in areas such as polio eradication,” said Moeti, when Africa is close to being declared polio-free.

Trump accused Geneva-based WHO of promoting Chinese “disinformation” about the new coronavirus, saying this worsened the outbreak and he would stop funding even as he defended his own handling of the crisis.

More than two million people are infected globally, with the largest number in the US.

Washington is the largest donor to the WHO, which tackles specific diseases and strengthens national health systems. The US contributed more than $400 million to the WHO in 2019, roughly 15% of budget.

“We hope (suspension of funding) will be re-thought because the US government is an important partner not only in financial terms but also an important strategic partner,” Moeti said.

She told the media teleconference the organisation requires $300 million to help African governments respond to the pandemic.