African officials deny under-reporting coronavirus cases

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Some international experts and observers have speculated that Africa’s relatively low number of coronavirus cases might simply be the result of poor reporting and low testing rates.

Nigeria for instance has identified more than 200 people who had come into contact with an Italian man who brought the first case of the virus into the country, but it has so far tested only 33.

Still, many African health officials bristle at the suggestion that they are not adequately addressing the crisis, saying there has been an unprecedented level of mobilisation for Covid-19, as well as a growing reserve of experience to draw on.

“I’m happy and proud [about] what Africa has done this time because usually we spend time running after epidemics when it is there but in this time we have been prepared,” said Dr Amadou Sall, director of the Pasteur Institute in Dakar.

At the onset of the outbreak, the institute trained 35 laboratories around the continent to do Covid-19 testing.

Dr Sall says African health officials have also learned a lot from the West African Ebola crisis in 2014, and have created critical communications and collaborative networks aimed at containing the virus.

“We put together a whole group of people that are going to be together working on referral of samples and confirmation, we’re going to do the [genetic] sequencing.

“And also very important we’re going to do research. Research is absolutely critical because three months ago nobody knew about this virus so understanding how it evolves in an African context is… absolutely important.”