Since the beginning of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Africa has remained a mystery. The health systems of most countries are unsuitable for coping with contagion proportions similar to those of China, Europe and the United States. The percentage of contagion has so far been significantly lower than on other continents. The latest WHO report (of 09 July 2020) speaks of 410,744 infections and 7,559 deaths. The percentage of contagion on the entire population of the continent is 0.034%, while that of deaths on the infected is 1.9%.
Figures far from the forecasts made in March by the WHO, which spoke of the possibility that the virus could infect 29 to 44 million people. The forecasts (fortunately for the Africans) leave researchers and doctors perplexed. In Africa, the chances of contagion are far greater than those of the so-called ‘First World’ countries. Various explanations provided.
The African strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that generates the COVID-19 disease may be genetically weaker than the others. The warm climate could inhibit it and make the infection more difficult. The immune system of Africans, already accustomed to endemic diseases such as malaria, would be more resistant and would be better able to fight coronavirus.
African countries would have acted promptly in applying pandemic containment measures with respect to China, Europe and the United States. A final hypothesis is linked to the structural weakness of national health systems that would not be able to mislead the real extent of the infection. There is also an appeal to the scarcity of diagnostic tests (which are also scarce in Europe). So the number of infected people would be clearly higher than that declared.
This last hypothesis is certainly true for Burundi, which, for reasons of political convenience, deliberately ignored the risk of contagion by promoting mass political rallies and elections last May, seeking only last week to run for cover after the contagion has reached apocalyptic levels.
The hypothesis of non-real numbers on actual cases of contagion would have (in part) contributed to the recent decision of the European Union to open the Shengen area to only 4 African countries: Algeria, Morocco, Rwanda and Tunisia. A revised downward decision compared to that taken last June 26, when 11 African countries were authorized: Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
A decision certainly not based on the declared numbers of the infection, given that Algeria has 17,348 infections and Morocco 14,771 while Angola, Namibia, Uganda and Zambia (included in the list of 26 June) count respectively: 396, 593, 977 and 1,895 cases of contagion. The decision has fueled strong criticism from all African countries, which now threaten to apply reciprocity by preventing Europeans from reaching their countries, citing the fact that the contagions recorded in Europe are almost 7 times higher, in percentage terms, than those registered in Africa.
The majority of African countries excluded from joining the European Union also point out that it was European citizens (and not Chinese) who brought the virus to the continent last March. The EU decision risks compromising relations with Africa.
Whatever the reason for the low (so far) Covid-19 coronavirus infection in Africa, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the continent has exceeded the critical number of infections and that the pandemic is now accelerating. In launching the alarm, the CDC Africa has declared a number of infections higher than the numbers supplied by the WHO, reaching 522,000 of them, it is not known on what basis.
Numbers contained or not, infected undeclared or undetected or not, containment of the actual virus or not, the negative impact on the economic growth of the African continent is undeniable. Various countries have applied for bilateral and multilateral loans to help fight the virus. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the ECA, in a report says that millions of jobs are now at risk.
The majority of African governments are engaged in the difficult battle against the pandemic and in the search for logistical and technological challenges to combat it. From rapid test kits, to personal preventive equipment, to social distances; and then fans, masks, hand washing sets etc. Important measures given that the majority of African countries will open their borders between mid-July and August.
This spasmodic search for preventive measures risks, among other things, fueling scams or, at best, speculations conceived by unscrupulous multinationals. There could be this risk in the introduction of the ‘disinfection tunnels’.
The inventor of these tunnels is Dr. Aviansh Kumar Agarwal, who designed them at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, India. “The tunnel does not require human control and is managed with the help of ultrasound sensors and microcontrollers. It has two chambers with three different levels of disinfection, “explains Agarwal. “When a person enters the first tunnel chamber, an ionized liquid disinfectant spray is sprayed on the person. This ionized liquid spray is more effective than normal ones since the liquid distributes itself firmly on the person’s skin. In addition, it has the ability to neutralize the virus from the surface more effectively than regular sprays. In the second chamber, the person experiences a hot air explosion of 70 degrees centigrade. This is to make sure that all bacteria surviving the disinfectant are killed by the heat. Then the second process in the second chamber is the exposure of UVClontana light with a wavelength between 207 and 222 nm. This light has the ability to kill the virus and is safe for human eyes and skin. ”
The disinfection tunnel takes 20 to 25 seconds to sterilize each person, managing to disinfect 2 people in a minute and 120 in an hour. Marketed by two Indian multinationals, the use of the anti-Covid-19 tunnel in different parts of Africa has started to spread very quickly, both in public and private structures.
The two Indian multinationals found themselves facing unexpected local competition. A similar patent was created by Professor Labode Popoola, deputy director of the University of Osun (UNIOSUN) in southwestern Nigeria. Professor Popoola devised his mechanical sanitization tunnel and is less expensive, simpler and, in his opinion, more effective than those patented in India.
The proliferation of these tunnels (Indian or Nigerian) is seriously worrying the CDC and the African Union which, after setting up a study commission, have published a report on the tunnels. The report, written in collaboration with South Africa’s African Infection Control Network (ICAN), said: “It is not advisable to spray humans with chemical disinfectant directly or expose them to UV-C rays in the disinfestation tunnels.” The study focused on: the use of sprays for chemical disinfection and exposure of people to ultraviolet rays. The practice of spraying humans is extremely dangerous, since the chemical disinfectants used are designed for use on hard surfaces.
The report, which is not yet available on the CDC website, but which has been made available to the various Ministries of Health, concluded that in addition to the worrying side effects on health, there is no evidence that the use of tunnels can reduce the transmission of any infectious diseases, and primarily Covid-19. The head of the scientific advisory committee of ICAN South Africa, professor Salim Abdool Karim, criticized the growing use of ‘sanitization tunnels’ during a media briefing. He defined them as ‘dangerous’ and ‘useless’, whose benefits would be ‘not perceptible’. «It is not advisable to spray people with disinfectants (in a tunnel, or in a room). This practice could be physically and psychologically harmful and would not reduce an infected person’s ability to spread the virus through droplets or contact. Even if a person infected with COVID-19 goes through a tunnel or a disinfection chamber, as soon as they start talking, coughing or sneezing, they can still spread the virus. The toxic effect of spraying with chemicals, such as chlorine, can cause eye and skin irritation, inhalation bronchospasm and potentially gastrointestinal effects, such as nausea and vomiting, “explains Professor Abdool.
Identical opinion from the WHO which has clearly warned against sanitation tunnels and other similar measures, noting: “In addition to health safety concerns, the use of chlorine in large-scale spraying practices can prevent this resource it is used for important interventions such as the treatment of drinking water and the environmental disinfection of health facilities ».
Although anti-Covid-19 tunnels have been rejected, and probably even banned in some states, installations continue in Africa. Which, however, does not prevent the development of 360 ° research.
The Ghanaian Center for Research on Infectious Diseases is involved in the search for drugs to combat the virus. In Somalia, Cameroon, Nigeria, low-cost local fan prototypes are being developed. Rapid test kits are being developed in Algeria and Senegal. In industrial parks in Ethiopia, large-scale production of masks has been undertaken.
Kenyan and Nigerian firms produce (very bizarre) equipment to wear to ensure social distance. In Botswana, a contact tracking app is being worked on to respond to the virus.
All these efforts, which are also beneficial for the economy, highlight the will of the African continent to ‘help itself’, accepting the pandemic challenge. Challenge made by hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people all over Africa who produce homemade masks.
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