Friday May 22, 2020

In war-torn countries like Yemen, there are few statistics but the coronavirus crisis is almost certainly causing further devastation CREDIT: Shutterstock

A lack of testing in crisis-hit countries across the globe raises the dangerous prospect that the coronavirus pandemic is running “undetected and potentially uncontrolled” there, David Miliband has warned. 

The head of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said it was a “race against time” to ensure that wealthier countries such as the UK stepped up to provide funding to bolster the global response. 

“Covid-19 has already brought the strongest health systems in the world to their knees – and we are now seeing virus hotspots growing in parts of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America,” the former British foreign secretary said. 

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“Far from making progress in curbing the outbreak, the lack of testing is a major barrier to even seeing the tip of this global iceberg, let alone its full and devastating scale.” 

The IRC said that countries including Yemen, Nigeria and northeast Syria had amongst the lowest rate of testing per million: 31, 165, and 59 tests per million respectively. 

That compares to richer countries like the United States and the United Kingdom – amongst the worst-hit countries in the world, with responses and testing regimes that are far fromperfect – which have conducted 38,394 tests per million and 41,599 tests per million. 

Chad and Mali also had low rates of testing, the IRC data suggested, leaving them unable to implement the test, track, and trace responses that have proved to be the only successful strategies for keeping the outbreak under control. 

And while there is a lack of testing, what testing has been done backs up the belief that the outbreak is already affecting far more people than the official numbers show. 

While in the US and the UK, around 15 and 11 per cent of Covid-19 tests come back positive, in places like Somalia, Afghanistan and Chad, it is between 30 and 45 per cent.   

Data from countries including Yemen, Tanzania, Syria and Venezuela – where 90 per cent of hospitals were already experiencing critical shortages pre-pandemic – was incomplete, but Médecins sans frontières suggested on Thursday that Covid-19 death rates in Yemen were as high as in Europe’s intensive care wards, but going unrecorded. Burial statistics from the port city of Aden showed as many as 80 people dying in the city on a daily basis, up from 10 before coronavirus.   

The IRC said there were some countries which had acted quickly to control the outbreak, including Jordan, Thailand, Ethiopia and Uganda, and which had continued to be proactive in testing, tracing and social distancing, despite having fewer resources than many wealthier countries that had been slow to act. 

However, there remain grave areas of concern, Mr Miliband said. 

“This pandemic will not come to an end here until it is under control everywhere,” he said. 

“These countries urgently need the financial and programmatic support to significantly increase their surveillance, testing capacity and contact tracing to ensure we are capturing all information necessary to understand this pandemic – and to beat it. We are in a race against time.” 

The IRC has launched a $30m appeal for funds to support its efforts to mitigate the spread of coronavirus among the world’s most vulnerable populations. 

 

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