Some 190,000 people in Africa are likely to die from the coronavirus and 44 million could get infected in the first year of the pandemic if containment measures fail, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
The warning comes as the continent has registered 53,200 cases and 2,027 deaths.
The United Nations agency said 3.6 million to 5.5 million people could be hospitalised due to the virus. From this figure, about 82,000 to 167,000 would be severe cases requiring oxygen, and 52,000 to 107,000 would be critical, needing breathing support.
This is a lower projection from the initial figures from the UN Economic Commission for Africa, which estimated that at least 300,000 people on the continent were likely to be killed by the virus and 29 million pushed into extreme poverty.
The WHO regional office for Africa said 83,000 to 190,000 people could die from Covid-19 and 29 million to 44 million get infected in the first year of the pandemic if containment fails.
Their research looks at 47 countries with a total population of one billion.
“The new estimates are based on modifying the risk of transmission and disease severity by variables specific to every country,” the WHO statement said.
“The model predicts the observed slower rate of transmission, lower age of people with severe disease and lower mortality rates compared to what is seen in the most affected countries in the rest of the world.”
The health agency added that this is largely driven by social and environmental factors slowing the transmission, and a younger population that has gained from the control of communicable diseases like HIV/Aids and tuberculosis to reduce possible vulnerabilities.
The organisation said the lower rate of transmission on the continent suggests a more prolonged outbreak over a few years, adding that smaller African countries alongside Algeria, South Africa and Cameroon are at a high risk if containment is not given priority.
“While coronavirus likely won’t spread as exponentially in Africa as elsewhere in the world, it likely will smoulder in transmission hotspots,” WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said.
“Covid-19 could become a fixture in our lives for several years unless a proactive approach is taken by governments in the region. We need to test, trace, isolate and treat.”
Dr Moeti said the predicted number of cases that would require hospitalisation would overwhelm medical capacity in most of the continent.
The study says countries in Africa need to expand their capacity, particularly of primary hospitals.
“The importance of promoting effective containment measures is more crucial, as sustained and widespread transmission of the virus could severely overwhelm our health systems,” she said.
“Curbing a large-scale outbreak is far costlier than the measures governments are undertaking to contain the spread of the virus.”