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Africa’s Health Capabilities Approaching Breaking Point under COVID-19

June 29, 2020 (EIRNS)—Since the first traveler brought the virus to Africa from Europe, the spread of COVID-19 has occurred at a slower than expected rate through Africa. Heeding advanced warnings from China (and having the image of Italy and Spain before them, African countries responded quickly and implemented lockdowns early. The benefit of that early intervention is now coming up against the reality of the lack of infrastructure in depth, with the result that the situation is about to quickly change for the worse.

The most recent notable developments include:

• Hospitals in a South African province are on verge of being overrun. This will be the second hospital in the city of Port Elizabeth—after the Livingstone Hospital three weeks ago—to be overrun by the virus. “We are perishing in our silos,” said Nelson Mandela University Department of Health Sciences Professor Lungile Pepeta. “Some private hospitals are full and others are filling up.... The state hospitals will be full soon. In 10 days we are going to need maybe 100 ICU beds in the metro.”

• South Africa is steadily adding to its capacity, having converted an abandoned Volkswagen assembly plant to a unit capable of caring for 3,000 people.

• Kenya’s health system is nearing overload, with the government now urging “home isolation.” With over 3,000 active cases and a total of 3,800 acute care hospital beds, the Kenya Health Ministry has issued a 22-page booklet, “Home Based Isolation and Care Guidelines for Patients with COVID-19.” Kenya expects its daily increase of positive cases to reach 200 by August.

• Researchers at South Africa’s Witwatersrand University are prepared to take their vaccine into high-risk areas. Initially, the trial is seeking 2,000 AIDS-free participants. “This is a landmark moment for South Africa and Africa at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said a Witwatersrand researcher. “As we enter winter in South Africa and pressure increases on public hospitals, now more than ever we need a vaccine to prevent infection by COVID-19.” Another researcher cautioned: “Already we are seeing a rise in ‘vaccine nationalism’ and vaccine production being ring-fenced for richer countries. It cannot be a case of ‘my country only’ and ‘my country first.’ ”

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