The coronavirus pandemic is surging in Sub-Saharan Africa with more people dying, even as several countries have begun relaxing lockdown measures.
As of Friday evening, there were 225,105 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the region with 6,040 deaths and 102,846 recoveries, according to the latest data released by the Africa Center for Disease Control.
The President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza, was believed to have died from COVID-19 on Tuesday, making him the first world leader to succumb to the deadly bug, although the government said he died from a heart attack at the age of 55.
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“The government of the Republic of Burundi is sad to announce to the people of Burundi and the international community the unexpected death of His Excellency Pierre Nkurunziza, president of the Republic of Burundi.
“The president died in hospital after a heart attack. He was hospitalised last week, felt better on Sunday, but experienced a sudden turn for the worse on Monday,” the government said in a statement shared on Twitter.
The pandemic is accelerating so fast that the World Health Organization Africa region noted on Thursday that it took 98 days to reach 100 000 cases and only 18 days to move to 200 000 cases.
“For now Africa still only accounts for a small fraction of cases worldwide,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa. “But the pace of the spread is quickening. Swift and early action by African countries has helped to keep numbers low but constant vigilance is needed to stop COVID-19 from overwhelming health facilities.”
Ten out of 54 countries are currently driving the rise in numbers, accounting for nearly 80% of all the cases. More than 70% of the deaths are taking place in only five countries: Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa and Sudan.
More than half of the countries in the continent are experiencing COVID-19 community transmission. In many cases this is concentrated in capital cities, but cases are spreading into the provinces.
South Africa is the most affected, accounting for 25% of the continent’s total cases, with the Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces reporting high number of cases and deaths daily.
“During the course of this coming week, we can expect that the total number of cases will pass the 50,000 mark. Sadly, we are also likely to record the 1,000th death from this devastating disease,” Mr. Ramaphosa wrote in his letter to South Africans.
“Over the coming weeks, as we watch the coronavirus infections continue to rise, we must remember that we are not helpless. And we should remember one simple, but fundamental, message: Don’t be alarmed. Be prepared,” he added.
Elsewhere in the world, the number of confirmed cases and deaths is also rising.
The WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned again on Friday the pandemic was “accelerating”, adding that the organization was concerned about the impact on women, children and adolescents.
“As the pandemic accelerates in low- and middle-income countries, WHO is especially concerned about its impact on people who already struggle to access health services – often women, children and adolescents,” he said at his regular press conference from Geneva, Switzerland.
Globally, more than 7.6 million people have contracted the virus and over 426,000 have died, according to the data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
South America is now the new epicenter with Brazil having the second number of confirmed cases in the world behind the United States where the pandemic is also accelerating in states that began relaxing lockdown measures.
But, the urgency is more dire in Sub-Saharan where there is still a great need for testing to determine where the virus is and prevent major clusters that can easily turn into outbreaks and overwhelm hospitals.