Africa is “not out of the woods yet”
The Africa CDC has three key pillars as the foundation for their COVID-19 strategy: preventing transmission, preventing deaths, and preventing social harm, according to Raji Tajudeen, MBBS, FWACP, MPH, head of the agency’s Public Health Institutes and Research Division. Africa, with 1.5 million cases of COVID-19, accounts for 5% of global cases. With a recovery rate of 83% and a case fatality rate of 2.4%, the African continent has fared much better than the rest of the world. “Significant improvements have been made, but we are not out of the woods yet,” he cautioned.
Richard Lessells, PhD, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, agreed. “Unfortunately, South Africa has not been spared from the worst effects of this pandemic despite what you might read in the press and scientific coverage.” He added, “Over 50% of cases and up to two thirds of the deaths in the African region are coming from South Africa.” A bigger challenge for South Africa has been maintaining essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially since it is also at the heart of thepandemic. On the brighter side, HIV itself has not emerged as a risk factor for COVID-19 infection or severe disease in South Africa.
Dimie Ogoina, MBBS, FWACP, president of the Nigerian Infectious Diseases Society, stated that COVID-19 has significantly affected access to healthcare in Nigeria, particularly immunizations and antenatal care. Immunization uptake is likely to have dropped by 50% in the country.
Diagnostic pitfalls in COVID-19
Technical errors associated with the SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic pipeline are a major source of variations in diagnosis, explained Jim Huggett, PhD, senior lecturer, analytical microbiology, University of Surrey, Guildford, England. He believes that PCR assays are currently too biased for a single cutoff to be broadly used, and false-positive signals are most likely because of contamination.
Dana Wolf, MD, Clinical Virology Unit, Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Israel, presented a large-scale data analysis of more than 133,000 pooled samples. Such a pooling strategy appeared to be highly efficient for a wide range of prevalence rates (<1% to 6%). “Our empirical evidence strongly projects on the feasibility and benefits of pooling in the current pandemic setting, to enhance continued surveillance, control, and community reopening,” she said.
Corine Geurts van Kessel, MD, PhD, Department of Virology, Erasmus University Rotterdam (the Netherlands), discussing antibodies testing for SARS-CoV-2, pointed out that disease severity can affect testing accuracy. “Reinfection cases tell us that we cannot rely on immunity acquired by natural infection to confer herd immunity,” she said.
Misinformation in the first digital pandemic
The world is not only facing a devastating pandemic, but also an alarming “infodemic” of misinformation. Between January and March 2020, a new COVID-19–related tweet appeared on Twitter every 45 milliseconds. Müge Çevik, MD, MSc, MRCP, an infectious disease clinician, scientist, and science communicator, said that “the greatest challenge for science communication is reaching the audience.”
People have always been skeptical of science reporting by journalists and would rather have scientists communicate with them directly, she noted. Science communication plays a dual role. “On one hand is the need to promote science to a wide audience in order to inform and educate and inspire the next generation of scientists, and on the other hand there is also a need to engage effectively in public dialogue,” she added. Dr. Çevik and colleagues think that “The responsibility of academics should not end with finding the truth. It should end after communicating it.”