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Testing, sequencing top worries for Africa as fatality shoots above global average

Nigeria records 1,270 new cases of COVID-19 as total rises to 101,331

Ramping up capacity to test for COVID-19 and sequence the DNA of emerging strains have become a top necessity for Africa in the face of new strains pushing fatality off the cliff.

For the first time since the pandemic started, the case fatality rate shot above the global average of 2.2 percent with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recording 6, 200 deaths in 25 days, by January 25.

At 88, 993 deaths as of February 1, Africa’s fatality rate is now at par with that of the United Kingdom at 2.5 percent but higher than 1.7 in the United States and 1.1 percent in New Zealand.

In 21 countries, the case fatality rate is 3 percent or higher and South Africa is, unfortunately, the driver of the sad trend, having its fatality rate at 3 percent, data analysed by John Hopkins University shows.

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In Egypt, fatality has hit 5.6 per cent, 4.3 in Liberia, 4.1 in Mali, 4.1 in Tanzania, and 3.6 in Eswatini, 3.6 in Zimbabwe and 2.7 in Algeria

However, analysts consider the rate in South Africa an offshoot of the country’s robust capacity for testing, which reflects much of the extent of the pandemic prevalence.

Testing and genomic sequencing in many parts of Africa have been fraught with a dearth of capacity, casting doubts on the credibility of results churned out by most health ministries.

The flaw can no longer be ignored as WHO has detected the new variant from South Africa to be fuelling rising infections in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Comoros, Zambia, and in 24 non-African nations.

It is forcing WHO to assist countries in building complex genomic surveillance capacities essential to detect and respond to new variants, shipping samples to sequencing laboratories and providing supplies and technical guidance.

In all countries, the organisation now expects at least 20 samples to be shipped to sequencing laboratories monthly to “help map the fast-evolving situation and best target responses at all levels”.

“Our shared goal is to get ahead of the virus. Unfortunately, the journey will be longer, harder and far more costly in the absence of consistent, all-of-society commitments to blocking infection,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’S regional director for Africa said during a virtual conference last week.

According to Our World in Data, a Uk-based project which tracks COVID-19 information, South Africa has run the largest volume of tests on the continent of the bigger countries.

Nigeria is fifth, having tested a cumulative of 1.3 million samples as of February 1, roughly 6, 229 per million people.

According to the Africa Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the total number of tests done in the week leading to 17 January decreased by 22 percent.

Ten countries accounted for 70 per cent of the tests conducted including South Africa, Morocco, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt, Uganda, Cameroon, Rwanda and Zambia.

The King’s Global Health Institute, which tracks the pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa, says that testing activity in some countries fell back after the first wave of the virus had subsided.

“Those countries that cut back on testing after the first wave will have had less extensive and timely intelligence from surveillance,” it said in a monitored report.