Africa to roll out more than 1 million coronavirus tests

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More than 1 million coronavirus tests will be rolled out starting next week in Africa to address the “big gap” in assessing the true number of cases on the continent, the head of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

“Maybe 15 million tests” will be required in Africa over the next three months, John Nkengasong said.

The new initiative to dramatically accelerate testing comes as the continent of 1.3 billion people braces for its turn in the pandemic that has rolled from China to Europe and the US and now beyond. Experts have said Africa is weeks behind Europe and the US but the rise in cases has looked alarmingly similar.

Africa has suffered in the global race to obtain testing kits and other badly needed medical equipment. While the number of virus cases across the continent was above 17,000 on Thursday, health officials have said the testing shortage means more are out there.

South Africa, the most assertive African nation in testing, has carried out perhaps 80,000 tests so far, Nkengasong said.

He also expressed concern for the US decision to cut funding for the World Health Organization, saying it “absolutely will affect (African Union) member states’ ability to receive support” from the UN agency. The US is the top donor to the WHO, but President Donald Trump has complained about alleged mismanagement, to widespread objections.

Any reduction in support for African nations will be painful as the continent has some of the world’s weakest health systems.

Ten African nations have no ventilators at all to treat virus patients who need respiratory support, the Africa CDC chief said, but arrangements are being made to deliver some recently donated by the Jack Ma Foundation. Nkengasong did not name the 10 countries.

He again called for solidarity inside and outside Africa in combating the virus, saying that “COVID-19 will not be defeated anywhere on the continent until it is defeated everywhere on the continent.”

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