Coronavirus Accelerates Across Africa - The New York Times

Coronavirus Accelerates Across Africa – The New York Times

Coronavirus Accelerates Across Africa – The New York Times

Coronavirus Accelerates Across Africa – The New York Times

DAKAR, Senegal — When Daniel Khan Mbuh died in a hospital in northern Cameroon, the hospital declared the cause of death to be Covid-19 — then released the body to the family instead of arranging for a safe burial, his daughter Stella said.

Ms. Mbuh said she was told the house where she had been caring for her father in the city of Bamenda would be disinfected. Nobody came. When she tried to get tested, the hospital refused, saying there were not enough test kits. And she was never advised to self-isolate, so she simply imposed her own two-week quarantine on herself and her siblings.

“They said they are following contacts,” Ms. Mbuh said of health officials, “but I am one of the contacts. And I am not being followed.”

The spread of the new coronavirus is now accelerating in many countries in Africa, where medical resources are stretched, rumors are rife and efforts to stop the pandemic are sometimes haphazard.

Public health experts have warned that Africa could become the next epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The World Health Organization said last week that confirmed cases in Africa had doubled in 18 days to reach 200,000; the first 100,000 took 98 days.

“Even though these cases in Africa account for less than 3 percent of the global total, it’s clear that this pandemic is accelerating,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the W.H.O.’s regional director for Africa, said in a video briefing last week.

She said that until there was a vaccine available, the continent would have to live with a steady increase of cases.

Most African nations staved off the initial spread of the virus for several months, partly by closing borders early, banning public gatherings and, in some countries, effectively tracing contacts using past experience of infectious diseases.

But the extra time this bought was not enough to bolster weak health care systems and to prepare for the predicted explosion of cases.

And now that many African countries, like others across the globe, are lifting their restrictions in order to restart their economies, the virus has new opportunity to spread and potentially, to overwhelm health care systems.

Nigerian doctors announced a nationwide strike starting on Monday over the lack of personal protective equipment in government hospitals and hazard pay for treating Covid-19 patients. Dozens of Nigerian health care workers have been infected, partly because they had no protective gear.

Epidemiologists at the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of a “catastrophic shortage” of health care professionals, and a drastic reduction of medical supplies because of border closures, price increases and restrictions on exports imposed during the pandemic.

“Africa needs to intensify its efforts to slow the spread of the pandemic,” they said in an article published last week in the journal Nature. They said that the continent needed financial support to stop the pandemic and tackle its economic and humanitarian effects.

The early spread of the pandemic in many African countries was driven by foreigners and the economic elite: people from Europe, and those with the means to travel there.

It has continued to spread among elites. Ghana’s health minister caught the virus “in the line of duty,” the country’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, said on Sunday. Four people in the Kenyan president’s office tested positive and have been taken to the hospital, according to a statement from the office.

However, what has often been perceived in Africa as a foreigners’ disease is increasingly reaching all sections of society. Testing is still extremely limited in most countries, so it is impossible to know how widely the pandemic has taken hold. But a month ago, the W.H.O. predicted that between 29 and 44 million Africans could become infected in the first year.

Truckers are carrying the coronavirus across borders, just as truckers had also spread H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS. Countries now have set up border controls, which can intensify the points of contact and possible spread of infection.

In the border town of Garoua-Boulaï in the Central African Republic, dozens of truck drivers jostled outside a tarpaulin tent waiting to get tested for the coronavirus. Some wore masks, but many did not, or had pulled them down below their chins.

  • Updated June 12, 2020

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

They had to wait for many days for results until their samples could be driven 370 miles across the country to the capital, Bangui. But as they waited, other citizens crossed back and forth at the border without being checked. No truck, no problem.

Rumors and lack of information have also contributed to the spread. In Tanzania, President John Magufuli said that the country had eradicated coronavirus “by the grace of God.” His government stopped releasing any data on cases after April 29.

In Madagascar, the president touted an unproven herbal drink as a cure.

In Nigeria, most of the public health messages have been released in English, which many Hausa speakers in the north do not understand.

In some countries, many say that hospitals, health authorities and governments are inflating their Covid-19 numbers in an attempt to attract extra funding, though there is little evidence to support such a claim.

In several cases, patients have run away from hospitals and quarantine centers; some believed themselves to be perfectly healthy, others objected to the conditions.

One man said he pulled into Bangui, two weeks ago when the bus he was on was stopped by police working with health authorities. He was tired and “felt malarial,” he said, and was pulled off the bus.

He tested positive and was hospitalized, but he said that the conditions were so bad that he ran away. He spoke on condition of anonymity, scared that the police would track him down.

“There was not enough water and very bad food,” he said. “They are still looking for me and I think that they would like to punish me, but they will never get me.”

Ruth Maclean reported from Dakar, Moussa Abdoulaye from Garoua-Boulaï, Central African Republic and Brenda Kiven from Douala, Cameroon.

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