WHO raises alarm in Africa ahead of December Holidays

Nairobi Country Bus Station in Muthurwa, Nairobi County.
Nairobi Country Bus Station in Muthurwa, Nairobi County.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging countries to be on high alert for a possible surge in COVID-19 cases. This comes as nearly 20 countries in the region experience an uptick in cases. – By Gerald Gekara.

After reporting a downward trend then a plateau, Africa has been experiencing a rise in cases since early October. Unlike the first wave of cases which was triggered by hotspots in Southern Africa, the latest increase is driven by the North African region, where temperatures are beginning to fall.

In the 47 countries in the WHO African Region, 19 countries have reported over a 20% increase in new cases in the past 28 days compared with the previous four weeks. 

However, 17 countries are also reporting a more than 20% drop in the number of new cases over the past 28 days, compared with the previous four weeks. There have also been increased reports of health worker infections and deaths, particularly among more experienced health workers in Kenya.

Large group gatherings and mobility have been identified as risk factors for increasing the spread of COVID-19 and the approaching holiday season can promote these risks, leading to super spreader events.

“As we near the time of year when people get on the move to spend their holidays together, there is a bigger risk of COVID-19 transmission,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“New clusters of cases can emerge in places that have so far been unaffected as people travel or gather for festivities. But we can lower the risks by wearing masks, limiting the numbers of people who come together, observing physical distancing and practicing good hand hygiene. We can celebrate yet do so safely.”

WHO is urging Member States to conduct risk assessments at the subnational level and identify areas of high risk. Based on this analysis local governments can adjust their public health measures accordingly and be agile in their decision-making.

WHO is helping prepare for a potential rise in hospital admission by training additional contact tracers and clinicians to better handle cases, ensuring crucial supplies are on hand and boosting screening at border crossing points. 

WHO urged governments to invest in engaging communities and winning their buy-in and support for life-saving public health measures. Only by ensuring people in cities, districts and villages in Africa are committed of fighting COVID-19 will we overcome the pandemic.

Dr Moeti spoke during a virtual press conference today facilitated by APO Group. She was joined by Mr Prosper Zo’o Minto’o, Regional Director for Western and Central Africa, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO); Professor Salim S. Abdool Karim, Director Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa and Co-Chair of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 and Professor of Global Health, Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University.