Dr Palitha Kohona

South Africa Struggles To Contain Exploding Rate of Coronavirus Infections

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) – South Africa, with a population of about 58 million, has the fifth-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. It has become the country with the highest number of infections on the continent.

Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize announced 10,107 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the country’s cumulative total to 503,290, including 8,153 deaths.

South Africa’s Gauteng province — which includes Johannesburg, the country’s largest city, and Pretoria, the capital — is the country’s epicenter with more than 35% of its confirmed cases.

Health experts say the country could reach the peak of its outbreak in late August or early September.

At the same time, South Africa has a twin disease — the world’s largest HIV epidemic, with roughly 20% of adults (15-49 years) in the country living with the virus. An estimated 520,000 of those cases are in the Western Cape and also disproportionately affect Black Africans. The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS have warned that past gains made in the HIV response may be threatened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The storm is upon us,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said, and weather will always be with us as, unfortunately, this coronavirus may also be.

In the absence of a vaccine, herd immunity, or significant behavioural change, some experts believe South Africa may have to treat COVID-19 the same way it has handled TB (which still kills some 200 people every day here) and HIV, and learn to live with the virus on a long-term basis.

Twenty-six years after apartheid ended in 1994, healthcare remains divided between a world class private system for those who can afford it, and an overburdened public one for the mostly Black citizens who cannot.

Just 17% of South Africans have medical insurance, the latest government figures from 2017 show. But healthcare provider Netcare estimates more than half of the country’s 6,000 critical care beds are in private hospitals.

Meanwhile, HIV remains a leading cause of death worldwide and the leading cause of death globally among women of reproductive age. However, AIDS-related deaths have declined, due in part to antiretroviral treatment scale-up.

“Countries and their development partners must do all they can to ensure that people who need HIV treatment continue to access it,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We cannot let the COVID-19 pandemic undo the hard-won gains in the global response to this disease.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 03 August 2020].

Photo: South African citizens placed under COVID-19 quarantine at The Ranch Resort in Limpopo Province, South Africa. CC BY-ND 2.0, Flickr / GovernmentZA.

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