BBC report highlights 8 key virus lessons from South Africa

As Africa heads into the next and most dangerous phase of the pandemic, there are eight things that South Africa can teach the rest of the continent, the BBC says in a report published on Saturday, 30 May.

But the report, written by veteran foreign correspondent and long-time South Africa resident Andrew Harding, says SA is itself bracing “for a dramatic rise in infections that will almost certainly overwhelm its relatively well-resourced healthcare system”.

These are among the key points highlighted by the BBC:

Keep the tea rooms in hospitals clean

Governments and medical teams still need to focus a lot more on hygiene. The evidence from South African hospitals already grappling with the virus points to the need for vastly improved hygiene protocols.

Doctors are warning that medical staff continue to congregate in tea rooms, removing their masks, passing mobile phones to each other, and undermining all the work they do on the wards.

“The most dangerous place in a clinic is undoubtedly the tea room. We’re trying to get that message out,” said Doctor Tom Boyles, an infectious disease specialist in Johannesburg.

Do fast tests – or no tests

After a promising start, South Africa is now “struggling woefully” with its testing, the BBC says.

“It has built up a huge backlog – ‘tens of thousands’ according to several sources – at its laboratories, which is now undermining the validity of the entire testing process. Tests are of no real use, doctors insist, unless the results of those tests can reliably be produced within, ideally, 24 hours.

Much longer than that and an infected person will either have spread the virus to too many others to trace properly, or they will already be in hospital, or they will have passed the point of serious risk for infecting others.

“The same concerns apply to South Africa’s much-hailed community screening and testing programme which, experts say, has outlived its usefulness, since the virus has now spread far beyond the capacity of the country’s large team of community health workers to track with any effectiveness,” the report states.

It is not old age, it is obesity

Much has been made of the fact that Africa has an unusually young population. But the evidence from several South African hospitals already suggests that alarmingly high levels of obesity – along with hypertension and diabetes – in younger COVID-19 patients are linked to many fatalities.

Two-thirds of coronavirus deaths in South Africa so far are among people aged under 65, according to Prof Shabir Madhi, a prominent vaccine expert. “Obesity is a big issue, along with hypertension and diabetes,” he said.

Read the full BBC report here:

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