Virus poses 'existential threat' to Africa

All but four of Africa's 54 countries have coronavirus cases as the continent appeals for supplies.
All but four of Africa's 54 countries have coronavirus cases as the continent appeals for supplies.

Some African countries will have more than 10,000 coronavirus cases by the end of April, according to projections by health officials, while the continent has an "enormous gap" in the number of ventilators and other critical items.

Cases across Africa are now above 6,000 at what has been called the dawn of the outbreak, and the continent is "very, very close" to where Europe was after a 40-day period, the head of the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. John Nkengasong, told reporters.

The virus "is an existential threat to our continent," he said. All but four of Africa's 54 countries have cases after Malawi on Thursday became the latest on the list. Local transmission has begun in many places.

Nkengasong said authorities are "aggressively" looking into procuring equipment such as ventilators that most African countries desperately need, and local manufacturing and repurposing are being explored.

"We've seen a lot of goodwill expressed to supporting Africa from bilateral and multilateral partners," but "we still have to see that translate into concrete action," he said.

Some countries have only a few ventilators. Central African Republic has just three.

Health officials pleaded for global solidarity at a time when even some of the world's richest countries are scrambling for basic medical needs, including face masks.

Even if equipment is obtained, getting them to countries is a growing challenge with Africa's widespread travel restrictions, though countries have made exceptions for cargo or emergency humanitarian flights.

As more African countries impose lockdowns, both the WHO and Africa CDC expressed concern for the millions of low-income people who need to go out daily to earn their living.

Australian Associated Press