A woman wears a protective face mask as she washes her hands at a bank, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Abuja, Nigeria May 6, 2020. (Photo: Agencies)
NAIROBI - Africa is registering a surge in new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, putting the continent on the spot as cases surpass 50,000.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 positive cases across Africa rose from 49,352 from Wednesday afternoon to 51,698 as of Thursday morning, the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) disclosed on Thursday.
From Nigeria in the west to South Africa and Kenya in the east, COVID-19 cases are accelerating at an alarming rate as most countries engage in mass testing.
The World Health Organization (WHO) African regional office notes in its latest update that the disease has evolved since the first case was reported on February 14 in Egypt.
Since then, COVID-19 has spread to over 30 countries in less than a month, and it is now affecting 53 member states except Lesotho.
In Kenya, COVID-19 cases have taken a sharp trajectory since Monday, with the east African nation registering the highest cases in a day on Wednesday at 47.
Infections stood at 607 on Thursday, according to the Ministry of Health of Kenya, with the disease said to be spreading in the community, especially in the capital Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa.
"We are seeing deaths at a community level which is a concern to us since it is a sign of intense transmission of the disease," said Patrick Amoth, Kenya's director-general of health.
Nigeria, similarly on Monday, confirmed 245 new cases of COVID-19, the highest in a single day. By late Wednesday, the infections in the most populous African nation stood at 3,145, according to the Nigeria Center for Disease Control(NCDC).
South Africa's COVID-19 cases, on the other hand, stand at 7,808 on Wednesday night, according to Health minister Zweli Mkhize.
Analysts attributed the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Africa to the disease spreading in the community as countries grapple with a shortage of testing kits.
"Over the past months, most African countries lacked the capacity to conduct mass testing, with the situation exacerbated by global shortage of gadgets. This saw Africa record low cases giving people a false sense of normalcy, which has helped contribute to the spread of the disease," said Eric Mang'unyi, a researcher at the Walter Sisulu University in South Africa.
Mang'unyi noted that a number of African countries have lately acquired the gadgets, some donated by Chinese e-commerce mogul Jack Ma, thus ramped up testing, what has seen an exponential surge in numbers.
"The fact that most Africans are asymptomatic has further helped to the spread of the disease because people see they are not sick yet they are," he said.
But amid the spreading, African governments have stepped up measures to combat the disease, with most of them announcing partial or full lockdowns, closure of businesses and banned international flights as they battle the disease.
In east Africa, for instance, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are collaborating on various measures to curb the spread of the disease, with the countries agreeing that truck drivers getting into their countries must be tested every 14 days.
In the medicine front, African researchers have stepped up the search for a vaccine against the disease, with scientists in South Africa on Monday vaccinating hundreds of health workers with 100-year-old tuberculosis (TB) vaccine in a clinical trial in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The trial will determine if a booster shot of Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) reduces the probability of COVID-19 infection and the severity of the symptoms.
In Kenya, researchers are seeking approvals to conduct trials to determine if certain antiretroviral drugs, as well as anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and Lopinavir/ritonavir, also used on HIV patients, can effectively treat COVID-19 patients in the East African nation.
The impact of COVID-19 on economies of the continent is substantial and would be long-term, said Mang'unyi.
Most economies of African nations, according to him, will be hit harder by the disease.
"World Bank forecasts that Sub-Saharan Africa will suffer its first recession in 25 years. This means industries and organizations are closing shop and no more jobs are being created, thus, people are losing their livelihoods. It is a catastrophic situation and economies will definitely take a longer time to recover, maybe up to three years or so," said Mang'unyi.
As African countries grapple with the disease, Mang'unyi believes it is time for some with no capacity to fight COVID-19 to get external help.
"Yes, in cases where nations have no capacity to tackle COVID-19, countries like China should help because they have successfully contained the disease. But some African nations have not done badly in fighting the disease if you go by the number of recoveries," he said.