[imagesource: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe]
As South Africa continues to battle the spread of COVID-19, one minor ‘positive’ has been the low fatality rate for infections in the country.
The reasons offered for that figure being lower than many other countries in the world – which range from a younger population through to widespread TB vaccines, amongst others – are not yet conclusive, and the scientific community has not reached any kind of consensus.
The BBC’s Andrew Harding, who has reported extensively on South Africa’s handling of the pandemic, has compiled a list of where things look to be going right, and wrong, starting with data related to the fatality rate.
Whilst various data sets show a fatality rate of around 1,4% in South Africa (for comparison, the UK is closer to 15%), that data is often very far from painting the full picture:
If you compare, for instance, fatality rates for confirmed virus patients in South Africa’s major hospitals, they are almost exactly the same as those in Italy or the UK.
But when you broaden the statistical pool beyond hospital admissions, then every country and every province is using fundamentally different criteria and different methods.
“It becomes meaningless,” University of Witwatersrand vaccine expert Prof Shabir Madhi told me.
He points out that so little testing is happening across the rest of the continent that it is impossible to draw any useful conclusions or comparisons. His hunch is that – as with the Swine flu pandemic of 2009 – we will only know the virus’ true impact in Africa in several years.
Madhi was just as critical of some of the efforts to build new “field hospitals”, like the one in Port Elizabeth, which was built by the private sector.
That hospital boasts 1 200 new beds, which sounds great, but only 30 were in use last week due to shortages of staff, as well as oxygen supplies:
“Brainless,” said Professor Madhi, dismissively when talking about the hospital.
The provincial government in Gauteng has built something but again, hardly any of the beds are either staffed or have oxygen supplies, leaving the facility almost empty, and prompting volunteers and private donors to step in to try to rescue the situation.
Depressingly, Harding also touches on how relief efforts have been beset by widespread allegations of corruption, with ‘covidpreneurs’ snapping up huge tenders, seemingly out of thin air.
With regards to South Africa’s escalating “excess deaths” count, which has now topped 17 000, Harding says it may be due in part to many citizens opting to stay away from hospitals out of fear, which leads to more deaths at home
The latest stats released by the health department show South Africa has 452 529 confirmed cases altogether, and 7 067 deaths, with 170 537 active cases.
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