Coronavirus: How fast is it spreading in Africa?

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Africa is seeing coronavirus cases rapidly increasing and deaths rising, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). We’ve looked at the situation across the continent, and examined which countries are of most concern.

How fast is coronavirus spreading?

In terms of overall numbers, Africa currently accounts for only a small proportion of total global cases, but the acceleration in rates of infection in some countries is clearly a cause for concern.

While it took nearly 100 days for Africa to reach an initial 100,000 cases, it took only 18 days for that to double to 200,000. It doubled again to 400,000 cases over the next 20 days.

Charts comparing rate of growth between different continents

The upward trend in Africa is starting to resemble other parts of the world that have been badly hit by the coronavirus. Most African countries are now experiencing community transmission, according to the WHO.

This is when a person gets COVID-19 without having been in contact with a known case from abroad or a confirmed domestic case, which makes it hard for the authorities to track down the source of a local outbreak.

Where are Africa’s hotspots?

The two countries with the highest numbers of cases are South Africa and Egypt. They accounted for over 60% of all the new cases reported in late June.

South Africa has the highest recorded number of total cases, while Egypt has the largest number of recorded coronavirus deaths. South Africa, which imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in late March, has seen cases rise steadily after this was relaxed in early May.

The Western Cape province (where Cape Town is located), accounts for nearly half of all cases in the country and more than half of the deaths. But cases are steadily rising in Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg.

Egypt has seen case numbers rising rapidly since mid-May, but there are indications that this may now have reached a peak with recorded new infections levelling off slightly in early July.

There is also concern about what is happening in Nigeria, which recorded the second-highest increase in deaths from Covid-19 after South Africa in the WHO report for 1 July.

Mauritania has also seen a steep increase in cases, and has been among those recording the highest increases in recent weeks.

It’s worth stressing that parts of the continent have seen relatively few cases, such as some areas of East Africa. In fact, the latest WHO Africa region report said just 10 countries accounted for more than 80% of all the reported cases on the continent.

How many people are dying in Africa?

The overall death rate has been low compared to the global average, despite the fact that many countries have poor health infrastructure.

The WHO says this could be partly because of the relatively young population in Africa – more than 60% under the age of 25. Current analysis suggests a lower mortality rate in younger people.

But there are still five countries with death rates that are comparable to or higher than the most recent global average rate of 5% deaths from confirmed cases:

  • Chad (8.5%)
  • Algeria (6.6%)
  • Niger (6.2%)
  • Burkina Faso (5.5%)
  • Mali (5.3)

Githinji Gitahi, the head of Amref Health Africa, an NGO which specialises in health matters, says the higher rates could be an indication of much higher infection levels than those being recorded, but it could also be as a result of relatively low levels of testing. The fewer tests you carry out, the fewer confirmed cases you find, and so the number of deaths appears relatively high.

The WHO says using community surveillance, where community health workers and other frontline staff report COVID-19 deaths, could be behind the high death rate reported, for example, in Chad.

Nigeria has been one of the worst-affected countries

How much testing is done in Africa?

Ten countries account for about 80% of the total tests conducted – South Africa, Morocco, Ghana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, Mauritius, Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda.

There are wide variations in testing rates, with South Africa doing the most and Nigeria doing relatively few, according to Our World in Data, a UK-based project which collates Covid-19 information.

On 4 July, South Africa was doing just over 30 tests per 1,000 people, compared with 72 in the UK and 105 in the US.

Nigeria is achieving 0.7 tests per 1,000 people, Ghana 10 and Kenya 3.

It’s worth pointing out that for some African countries, it is impossible to know what exactly is happening due to a lack of any data or data being incomplete.

“We have to take the numbers with a pinch of salt,” says Chiedo Nwankwor, a lecturer in African affairs at Johns Hopkins University in the US.

In Tanzania, President John Magufuli has voiced doubts about the validity of virus testing results at the national laboratory, and has allowed only limited data on infection rates and testing to be made public.

Equatorial Guinea had a row with the WHO after accusing its country representative of inflating the number of Covid-19 cases. For a while it held back its data, but has now started sharing it again.

And in Kano state in northern Nigeria, an unusual spike of close to 1,000 deaths was reported in late April, but the government has not still confirmed how many were due to Covid-19.

Note: The graphics in this page use a different source for figures for France from that used by Johns Hopkins University, which results in a slightly lower overall total. US figures do not include Puerto Rico, Guam or the US Virgin Islands.

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