Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says Africa still has a lot to learn about the coronavirus and in order to avoid an overload on the continent’s health systems, countries need to step up screening and testing programmes.

He says while Africa is still behind the rest of the world regarding the numbers of infections and deaths, countries need to ensure that the correct measures are in place to minimise loss of life.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) African Region says the continent has 34 610 reported infections, with over 11 000 recoveries and 1 517 deaths.

South Africa has the highest number of cases with 5 350 and a death toll of 103.

Below is a graphic with the latest coronavirus cases in South Africa:

 

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Algeria has registered the most fatalities at 437.

Mkhize was participating in a joint virtual briefing with the WHO and World Economic Forum on how the African continent is handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think for us in Africa what would be useful is for us to go all out and use our health worker field operators to reach out and find people with suspicious symptoms, test them early before they are complicated and then in the process we could isolate them if they are found to be positive,” says Mkhize.

Balancing coronavirus with comorbidities

Mkhize says balancing the COVID-19 pandemic with the challenge of comorbidities such as Tuberculosis, HIV, obesity and hypertension is the biggest challenge faced by government and health officials.

“A huge number of our people are having diabetes, hypertension, chest infections, TB, HIV and Aids and cancers. All of these need to be managed as well, whilst we are dealing with this. That is the reason why there has been an additional allocation of resources to actually help the department to get additional human resources, field hospitals so that we don’t actually have the COVID-19 patients displacing other patients who are quite needy. We are concerned about over 5 million people on antiretroviral treatment. They cannot get off that treatment. Their treatment programme cannot be undermined. That is going to create a new problem.”

Organisations, including the South African National AIDS Council (Sanac), have raised concerns about resources being taken away from fighting other illnesses to focus on COVID-19.

Sanac says since the lockdown, screening, testing and initiating people on HIV and TB medication has stopped. Some clinics have been converted into COVID-19 only facilities which then exclude people with other chronic conditions.

Sanac CEO Doctor Sandile Buthelezi says HIV and TB should be included in COVID-19 screening.

Buthelezi says, “Actually, if integration is done well what we actually anticipate as negative consequences of COVID-19 can be translated into health gains since HIV and TB are non-communicable diseases.”