Africa could become next epicentre of coronavirus with just five ICU beds for every MILLION people, WHO warns – The Sun

AFRICA could suffer up to 10 million coronavirus cases in up to six months' time, warns the World Health Organization (WHO).

There are also fears the Covid-19 pandemic could kill at least 300,000 Africans, as there are just five ICU beds for every million people, the group adds.

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Africa's 54 countries have so far reported fewer than 20,000 confirmed cases of the disease, just a fraction of the more than two million cases reported globally. 

But WHO warned that Africa was at risk of becoming the world's next coronavirus epicentre, reported the BBC.

The concern comes days after WHO officials said some African countries could see a peak in coronavirus cases in the coming weeks and testing should be urgently increased in the region.

“During the last four days we can see that the numbers have already doubled,” said Michel Yao, spokesman for WHO, on April 9.

“If the trend continues, and also learning from what happened in China and in Europe, some countries may face a huge peak very soon,” he added.

The group's Africa director, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, told the BBC that international travel played a part in spreading the killer bug.

She added: "If you look at the proportion of people who travel, Africa has fewer people who are travelling internationally."

However, with the virus having a firm foothold in Africa, WHO fears cases will spiral as they have elsewhere, including in France and the US.

Reuters said that combating the disease was hampered by the fact that 36 per cent of Africans have no access to household washing facilities.

Plus the continent counts just 1.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people. France, in comparison, has 5.98 beds per 1,000 people.

The UN has called for a $100 billion safety net for the continent, to help prevent the likely 300,000 African coronavirus deaths, and extreme poverty being faced by 29 million.

The UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) warned that without intervention, more than 1.2 billion Africans would be infected and 3.3 million would die this year. Africa has a total population of about 1.3 billion.

Most of Africa, however, has already mandated social distancing measures, ranging from curfews and travel guidelines in some countries to full lockdowns in others.

Even the UN's best-case scenario, where governments introduce intense social distancing once a threshold of 0.2 deaths per 100,000 people per week is reached, Africa would still see 122.8 million infections, 2.3 million hospitalisations and 300,000 deaths.

In the cities, 56 per cent of the population is concentrated in overcrowded slums and many people are also vulnerable due to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malnutrition.

"We estimate that between five million and 29 million people will be pushed below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 per day owing to the impact of Covid-19," the UN's report said.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has this month announced an extra $150 million of funding to help speed the development of treatments, vaccines and public health measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

Melinda Gates said: “We really as a global community need to address what is now just beginning in African and South Asian countries.

"We see a huge need, and that’s why we have more than doubled our commitment."

Her husband warned in February that the new bug was a “once-in-a-century” pathogen.

He said then: “By helping countries in Africa and South Asia get ready now, we can save lives and also slow the global circulation of this virus.”

Europe and the US could see up to three more waves of Covid-19 once the virus takes hold in Africa, a global health expert has recently warned.

Professor Lawrence Gostin, director of the World Health Organisation's Center on Public Health and Human Rights, said outbreaks in the developing world could lead to future epidemics even after the current one is brought under control.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Professor Gostin said: "Covid-19 is about to march through sub-Saharan Africa and perhaps the Indian subcontinent like an avalanche.

"Even if the United States and Europe were to get their Covid epidemics under control, if you've got Covid rages in other parts of the world, in this interconnected society we live in, it will come back to Europe and the United States.

"And in fact I could predict that if it gets out of control in these lower income countries that we will see in the US and Europe a second, and a third wave, and even a fourth wave of Covid.

Jimmy Whitworth, Professor of International Public Health, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said Africa was facing an “onslaught”.

“The fast increasing coronavirus epidemic in Africa is really concerning,” he said.

South Africa, the continent’s most developed country has begun setting up drive-through testing centres and mobile medical units, while a strict lockdown is also in place.

But the country’s health minister Zweli Mkhize warned against complacency.

“What we may currently be experiencing is the calm before a heavy and devastating storm,” she said.

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