Increased testing needed as Africa sees rise in virus cases

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FILE In this Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020 file photo, a long-distance traveller undergoes a COVID-19 test at a mobile clinic at a taxi rank at Johannesburg's main railway station. As a result of holiday gatherings, African officials warn of a resurgence of COVID-19 on the continent and urge increased testing to combat it. The level of testing across Africa is considerably less than what health experts say is needed to effectively control the spread of the disease. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell, File)

DAKAR – As a result of holiday gatherings, African officials warn of a resurgence of COVID-19 on the continent and urge increased testing to combat it.

The level of testing across the continent is considerably less than what health experts say is needed to effectively control the spread of the disease.

Africa makes up about 3.3% of the global total of confirmed virus cases, but this is believed to be just a fraction of the actual cases on the continent of 1.3 billion people.

When the pandemic began only two of Africa’s 54 countries had laboratories to test for the disease. Now virtually every one of the continent’s countries can carry out the tests. Together Africa’s countries have conducted at least 25 million COVID-19 tests, with a recent increase of 3%, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Compared to the small amount of testing at the beginning of the pandemic, Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong has said the increased testing is “good progress and we continue to be hopeful of this.”

The distribution of the tests, however, is very uneven. Just 10 countries — South Africa, Morocco, Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda and Cameroon — are carrying out more than 70% of the continent’s testing. To make the testing more widespread, 2.7 million additional tests have been procured by member states, the Africa CDC said some weeks ago.

Increased testing is needed to help Africa locate where cases are rising and where additional medical responses are needed. And, when they become available to Africa, where vaccines should go.

Africa’s rural areas have even less testing than its cities, where most hospitals and clinics are located. More testing is needed in rural areas, said Nkengasong, especially as urban Africans travel to remote areas to unite with their families as the New Year approaches.