The World Health Organisation has said more than two-thirds of Africans might have contracted COVID-19 over the past two years, which it said was around 97 times more than reported cases of infections.
Following laboratory tests that detected 11.5 million COVID cases and 252,000 fatalities across the African continent, the WHO explained that as of September last year, about 800 million people could have already been infected by the virus.
“A new meta-analysis of standardised seroprevalence study revealed that the true number of infections could be as much as 97 times higher than the number of confirmed reported cases,” said WHO Africa boss Matshidiso Moeti.
“This suggests that more than two-thirds of all Africans have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus,” she added.
The report analysed more than 150 studies published between January 2020 and December last year, showing exposure to the virus had jumped from just three per cent in June 2020 to 65 per cent by September last year.
“In real terms, this means that in September 2021, rather than the reported 8.2 million cases, there were 800 million,” said Moeti.
The global average of true infection numbers is thus believed to be 16 times higher than the number of confirmed reported cases.
WHO noted that with limited access to testing facilities for much of Africa’s populations, many infections went undetected, as testing was mainly carried out on symptomatic patients in hospitals and for travellers requiring negative PCR results.
“The focus was very much on testing people who were symptomatic when there were challenges in having access to testing supplies” and this resulted in “under-representing the true number of people who have been exposed and are infected by the virus,” Moeti told journalists.
Moeti harped on the difficulty involved in producing accurate data within the African region owing to inadequate and under-resourced health facilities, especially since the purported 67 per cent of people on the continent had shown no prior symptoms of infection.
While the pandemic had etched its catastrophic impacts on many parts of the globe, the WHO said Africa appeared to have escaped the worst and was not as badly hit as initially feared at the onset of the pandemic.
But with weak health facilities and services, experts had feared the systems would be too overwhelmed to contain prevalence.