The Director, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, has said the collapse of global cooperation and failure of international solidarity have shoved Africa out of the global coronavirus diagnostics market.
He decried the ‘low testing rate’ for COVID-19 in Africa, warning that no country could securely eliminate COVID-19 — or its devastating economic domino effects — if the disease becomes rampant across a continent of 1.3 billion people.
Speaking on Monday via the agency’s official Twitter handle @AfricaCDC, Nkengasong also warned that though Africa is boosting its capacity to respond to the pandemic, the lack of solidarity would cost lives.
The Africa CDC director expressed displeasure that COVID-19 testing in Africa is still very limited.
According to him, with 1.3 billion people, the continent has so far tested less than 500,000 people, “which is less than 500 per million tested.”
“If you don’t test, you don’t find,” Nkengasong warns.
He noted that many African countries had gained competence to test for the virus, but, however, lack appropriate reagents to do so.
“Lack of access to diagnostics is Africa’s Achilles heel.
“When SARS-CoV-2 was first reported, genome sequences were made available within weeks and several groups in Asia and Europe started producing in-house tests.
“Africa lacked this capacity and had to wait for the tests to be introduced — a tardy ‘trickle-down’ of diagnostics.
“The situation has now become worse — a race is on by the powerful to acquire whatever COVID-19 tests are available.
“The collapse of global cooperation and a failure of international solidarity have shoved Africa out of the diagnostics market.
“With its lack of hospitals and high prevalence of conditions such as HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and malnutrition, Africa could see COVID-19 mortality rates higher than elsewhere, even in children.
” It will be higher still the more slowly we implement testing.
“No country can securely eliminate COVID-19 — or its devastating economic domino effects — if the disease becomes rampant across a continent of 1.3 billion people.
“For Africa to get ahead of the pandemic, we need to scale up testing fast,” Nkengasong warned.
He noted that the first case of COVID-19 in Africa was reported in Egypt on 14 February, 2020.
“Since then, 52 countries in Africa have reported more than 30,000 cases and about 1,400 deaths from the new coronavirus.
“This count is likely to be an underestimate; Ethiopia has run about 11,000 tests — only 10 for every 100,000 people.
“Much-richer South Africa has run about 280 per 100,000.
“For Australia, the number is about 2,000 [per 100,000]; for the United States, it’s 1,560”, he said.
He however, stated that since African countries were used to widespread testing for pathogens such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, such expertise could easily be adapted for SARS-CoV-2 testing.