Addis Ababa, Ethiopia | AFP | African Union officials said Thursday the continent is struggling to compete with rich countries for testing kits and other equipment necessary to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“We need aid for testing equipment,” Kwesi Quartey, the deputy chair of the African Union Commission, told a press conference.
The head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr John Nkengasong, also lamented the continent’s limited testing capacity and said other essential tools were similarly lacking.
“We are also being elbowed out in the space of personal protective equipment and commodities to support the entire spectrum of the response, ranging from prevention of transmission, prevention of deaths and prevention of harm,” Nkengasong said.
“That has to stop.”
As of Thursday there were around 11,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, on the continent — a rise of more than 4,000 from just a week ago, Nkengasong said, voicing concern about the “rapid increase”.
The total number of deaths as of Thursday was 572, he said.
But testing has been limited in many African countries, raising concerns that cases are going undetected.
Nkengasong expressed confidence that the numbers being reported painted a fairly accurate picture of the pandemic on the continent, saying it would be difficult to hide a large number of unreported cases because hospitals “would be flooded with people”.
But he acknowledged that, like in other regions, Africa’s numbers were not “perfect” and said testing limitations would make community transmission of the coronavirus harder to detect and control.
“Unfortunately this virus is ahead of us. Let’s admit that we are at war but the enemy is ahead of us in terms of scientific discovery,” he said.
The AU has so far distributed some 70,000 testing kits to member states and plans to start shipping 100,000 more next week, Nkengasong said.
Chinese billionaire Jack Ma last month donated 20,000 testing kits to each African country, a move that Nkengasong said had given the AU some “breathing space”.
The 55-member AU is “negotiating as hard as we can” for more testing kits and is trying to route all requests from the continent through its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Nkengasong said.
“The opportunity for Africa to fight and win this battle is still open,” he said. “We have about 11,000 cases, we know what to do, we just lack the means.”