Covid-19 top 10: worrying stats for South Africa

12 July 2020 - 00:00 By TANYA FARBER
Despite reservations about global comparisons, a closer look at what is going on within SA reveals worrying numbers.
Despite reservations about global comparisons, a closer look at what is going on within SA reveals worrying numbers.
Image: 123RF/ktsdesign

SA is set to break into the top 10 nations with the most Covid-19 infections, but experts say such landmarks are meaningless and the priority is to focus on the domestic response.

"Making comparisons between countries is highly problematic," said professor Shabir Madhi from Wits University, a member of the health minister's Covid-19 advisory panel.

"The virus wasn't introduced simultaneously in all countries, and other factors, possibly including climatic conditions, result in countries being at different stages."

Testing regimens also affect comparisons, he said, citing the example of Nigeria, which is testing 0.5 people per 1,000 while SA is testing 30 people per 1,000.

"So, you can expect more cases to be identified in SA than Nigeria despite us having about a quarter of Nigeria's population."

Professor Fikile Nomvete, director of medical programmes in the health sciences faculty at Nelson Mandela University, said global Covid-19 statistics are "a big function of highly subjective reporting".

"If a statistic is not reported, it cannot be interrogated. Accessibility of data is influenced by access to screening centres, testing kits, and reporter reliability.

"We all have been looking at absolute numbers of new or active cases and not necessarily at incidence rate. The problem with this is that you may have either an over- or underestimation of the actual problem."

Despite reservations about global comparisons, a closer look at what is going on within SA reveals worrying numbers.

Ridhwaan Suliman, a senior researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, said: "During lockdown level 3, the average doubling rate of confirmed cases in SA is 13.8 [days]" and this is highly concerning. Also, the test positivity rate - the number of cases as a percentage of new tests - "has been above 20% over the past 10 days".

Suliman said the "main driver" of late is the surge in Gauteng, where cases are doubling every 8.5 days

SA's fatality rate, which is about a third of the 4.49% global average, is low "due to a younger median population age, the early lockdown and subsequent delay in the spread, as well as hospitals mostly being able to cope thus far".

However, this will need to be "closely watched" as "the recent surge and rapid rise in Covid-19 cases has corresponded with a surge in demand for hospital beds".

Nomvete predicted that most South Africans will be exposed to infection by SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes Covid-19, "and the individual body's response will be just as individualised".


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