Coronavirus: Some African countries may be under-reporting cases

WHO says one-third of countries on continent have successfully contained Covid-19

Yoga teacher Siri Ajeet Dipuo Banda (left) and her family walk outside her family house in the Alexandra Township in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Wednesday. Photograph: Kim Ludbrook/EPA

One-third of African countries have managed to successfully contain the coronavirus, while another third have widespread community transmission, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

South Africa has the most confirmed Covid-19 cases on the continent, with nearly 8,000 cases and 153 deaths. North African countries Egypt, Morocco and Algeria are next in line, with 7,588, 5,408 and 4,997 cases respectively.

Nigeria and Ghana each has more than 3,000, while Cameroon has 2,265, and Guinea – which went ahead with a controversial referendum on presidential term limits March 22nd – has more than 1,850 cases. Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, has a population of less than one million people, but has confirmed 1,124 cases.

Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO's regional director for Africa, said on Thursday that a peak in cases was expected within six weeks in the countries with community transmission.


“I have a lot of faith in the resilience of African people, their ingenuity,” she said, adding that she hoped governments and the international community would help Africa deal with the crisis. “We will not see a continent flattened and in despair. It will be difficult but people will put in their best,” she said.


Many African countries were quick to impose lockdowns, fearful of how quickly the disease was spreading in Europe. Both Uganda and Rwanda, east African countries that closed borders on March 22nd, have yet to register a single death from Covid-19.

"Those that did lockdowns early enough, definitely they're doing much better than those that started late," said Dr Nazarius Mbona Tumwesigye, an associate epidemiology professor at Uganda's Makerere University.

However, there are growing concerns that some countries are under-reporting cases, which could lead to the disease spreading elsewhere once restrictions are eased. That could be for political or economic reasons, or because of a lack of ability to gather information, Dr Tumwesigye said.

In Tanzania, videos shared online show burials carried out at night by people in protective gear. Opposition politicians suggest this is proof the government is covering up the severity of the outbreak. Tanzania's president, John Magufuli, has continued to attend church, saying religious gatherings offer "true healing", and has expressed distrust in WHO-approved Covid-19 tests. Tanzania has 480 confirmed cases and 16 deaths.


In Burundi, which has only confirmed 15 cases, political leaders are pressing ahead with an election planned for May 20th. "Do not be afraid. God loves Burundi," Evariste Ndayishimiye, the ruling party's presidential candidate, has told the public.

Meanwhile, Somalia has 873 confirmed cases and 39 confirmed deaths, but officials say it has the capacity to test only those who are ill already. Somalia's deputy minister of health, Mohamed Said Abdullahi, told The Irish Times between 70 and 80 per cent of people tested are positive.

“It’s really worrisome for us in Somalia because of the poor medical services we have,” he said. “The country was in civil war for more than 20 years. We didn’t call for corona – corona just came.”

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa