The World Health Organisation (WHO) Africa Region has introduced a new community testing initiative, which is expected to ramp up COVID-19 case detection rates on the continent.

The continent has reported at least 8.4 million COVID-19 cases, with some 214 000 people succumbing to complications related to infection.

However, WHO Africa Region Director, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said as with other countries throughout the world, there are concerns of under-detection of positive cases on the continent.

She said because of limited testing on the continent, many countries are still “flying blind” in case detection due to most tests being carried out on symptomatic but with “much of the transmission is driven by asymptomatic people”.

“Our analysis indicates that as few as one in seven cases is being detected, meaning that the true burden of COVID-19 in Africa could be about 59 million cases. In Africa, with our low vaccination rates, it’s vitally important to have a better grasp of where and how the virus in circulating in our communities.

“Estimates suggest that between 65% and 85% of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic. The reported cases we see could therefore just be the tip of the iceberg,” Moeti said.

Moeti said the WHO Africa Region would be going on the offensive against COVID-19 by rolling out a “radically new approach” to testing by working in communities.

“Local authorities in hotspot districts will use antigen detection rapid diagnostic tests which are reliable, affordable, easy to use and provide results in about 15 minutes so that individuals can quickly know their status.”

WHO has already provided funds to eight countries in the pilot phase of the programme, with experts deployed to those countries to assist in beginning the operations.

The programme will ramp up testing in those countries by 40%, with at least seven million people expected to be tested.

“Ramping up testing in this way will help to quickly contain flare ups of COVID-19 by breaking chains of transmission. As societies start looking toward a post pandemic future, this community testing strategy is a key component in transitioning towards localised management of COVID-19 outbreaks,” Moeti said.

Vaccination of the African continent

Moeti said the analysis received that millions of COVID-19 cases are going undetected makes the “need to speed up access to vaccines” an urgent one.

“We are… urgently urging wealthy countries, most of whom have vaccinated two thirds of their populations, to share significant doses of their vaccines now rather than next year.”

She said with the festive season approaching and the fourth wave looming, African countries need to immediately begin preparations for the coming wave of infections.

Moeti also encouraged people living on the continent to get the jab and continue observing non-pharmaceutical interventions.

“End-of-year celebrations are fast approaching, and we saw last year, that intense travel and gathering in December led to a surge in COVID-19 cases. So, countries should be preparing now for a fourth wave.

“For all of us to be able to reconnect with family and friends the way we would like after this incredibly difficult year and a half, I encourage everyone to get vaccinated as soon as you have the opportunity to do so and to keep up the preventative measures,” she said.

Source: South African Government News Agency

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