As the number of the coronavirus cases start rising in Africa, there are worries that rural areas with weak health systems and crowded low-income communities aren’t ready for the harm and loss about to come.
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The most alarming confirmation of a first case came from Somalia, the Horn of Africa nation with one of the continent’s weakest health systems after nearly three decades of conflict. Tanzania, Liberia and Benin also announced their first cases.
Somalia’s Health Minister Fawziya Abikar said the country’s first confirmed case was in a Somali national who had recently arrived from abroad. Somalia’s government quickly announced that international flights to the country would no longer be allowed as of Wednesday.
Large parts of Somalia remain under the control of the Al Qaeda-linked Islamic terrorist group Al-Shabab, which has been hostile to aid groups and often carries out deadly attacks in the capital, Mogadishu. The insecurity will hurt efforts to contain the virus.
In Liberia, the executive director of the country’s environmental protection agency tested positive after arriving back last week from Switzerland.
Liberia, along with neighbors Sierra Leone and Guinea, was devastated by an Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016 that killed more than 11,300 people.
“There is no cause for panic,” Information Minister Eugene Nagbe said.
Tanzania’s health ministry said the country’s first confirmed case was a 46-year-old Tanzanian woman who recently traveled from Belgium. Tanzania came under unusual criticism from some global health officials last year after the East African nation was accused of not sharing information about a possible Ebola virus case.
The coronavirus has now been confirmed in at least 30 of Africa’s 54 countries, officials said Monday.
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African nations have begun imposing travel restrictions as many confirmed cases come from abroad. Algeria cut off all air and sea contact with Europe, effective Thursday.
Across Africa, some health experts worried that other virus cases were going undetected.
“We have to ask the question: How strong are our monitoring systems, especially those in rural areas or with limited technology? That is a reality on the continent and perhaps why we have not yet seen a surge in cases,” public health researcher Dr. Shakira Choonara told The Associated Press.
Professor Cheryl Cohen with South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases expressed concern that the current numbers could rise rapidly.
“The major area for the virus is now Europe, and we are connected more to Europe and U.S. than we are with China,” she said.
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For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But severe illness can occur, especially in the elderly and people with existing health problems. Worldwide, more than 169,000 people have been infected, 6,500 have died and more than 77,000 have recovered, most of them in China.