The COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly spreading across Africa and a lack of adequate testing is preventing health care professionals from being able to assess and fight the spread of the disease, according to the International Rescue Commitee (IRC).
The IRC is a global, nongovernmental organization dedicated to responding to humanitarian crises. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa more than doubled in July, and over the past two months it rose by 500%.
Every country in which the IRC is involved, however, has completed less than 8,000 tests per million people. This is in stark contrast to countries like Britain, where there are 205,782 tests per million.
The IRC believes that because testing levels in Africa are so low, the actual levels of COVID-19 in the continent are probably much higher than the reported numbers show. The lack of adequate testing is believed to be a result of low testing capacity, poor health infrastructure, and social stigma.
Additionally, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least one test per 1,000 people per week, and it says countries should be striving for a test positivity rate of 5% or under for at least 14 days. Few African countries where the IRC is involved have accomplished this – Somalia, for example, has a 32% test positivity rate.
The IRC is calling for increased resources and funds from the international community so it can increase testing in Africa and fight the virus.
Stacey Mearns, senior technical adviser of Emergency Health at the IRC, said that “where testing is insufficient, we are fighting this disease in the dark” and “we are worried this could be the tip of the iceberg.”
She added that without increased financial assistance, “we risk an undetected and uncontrolled spread – and a response fighting with a hand tied behind its back.”