ABUJA, Nigeria – Since the start of the year, Zimbabwe’s oldest cemetery has been extremely busy. Gravediggers are to dig more than a dozen graves daily at Warren Hills Cemetery in the capital, Harare, as the death toll from the coronavirus continues to rise at an alarming rate.
“The number of daily graves at the cemetery has almost quadrupled since the start of 2021,” Stephen Bwalya, a commercial taxi driver who lives near the cemetery, told The Daily Beast. “Most of the victims died from the coronavirus.”
Over the past two months, Zimbabwe has seen a drastic increase in the number of coronavirus infections and deaths. Around 35,000 cases and over 1,300 deaths have so far been confirmed – a huge spike from the 14,000 infections and 369 deaths recorded on New Year’s Day.
But those numbers are certainly underestimated as testing has been severely limited in the country, where decades of economic decline have left it with few resources to fight the epidemic.
At a large public hospital in Harare, nurses have gone on strike to protest the deaths of colleagues who have lost their lives due to a lack of personal protective equipment, and coronavirus patients have been urged to purchase their own ventilators while hospitals are in operation. lack of oxygen. Even the country’s highly influential elites, who can barely travel abroad for treatment due to a number of measures and restrictions countries have put in place to tackle the spread of COVID-19, have been forced to face the realities of the pathetic health sector in Zimbabwe. Already, four of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s cabinet ministers have been killed by COVID-19.
“The biggest concern is the fact that a lot of those who need testing cannot be tested because the government is unable to test so many people,” Bwalya said. “Among those buried at the cemetery, there are those who died after showing symptoms of COVID-19 but they were never tested.
Zimbabwe is not the only African country to worry about hidden coronavirus deaths.
“In my many years of living near the cemetery, I haven’t seen as many people buried here on a daily basis as I have since the start of the year.“
Last June, a Daily Beast investigation revealed how gravediggers in the country’s northwestern Nigerian town of Kano buried dozens of people who have secretly died of COVID-19 in one of the country’s largest cemeteries from Kano. The discovery was followed by a BBC report which found that cemeteries in Somalia, where government figures claim only 135 people have died from the coronavirus, were filling up at an alarming rate with people who have lost their lives in the aftermath of the pandemic. .
Across the continent, there has been an increase in the number of coronavirus deaths, especially since the start of 2021.
According to the African Centers for Disease Control (CDC), death rates across the continent are above average in other parts of the world. Of the 55 African countries monitored by the CDC, about 21 report death rates above the current global average of 2.2 percent. The death rate for the continent has skyrocketed over the past seven months, from 2.1% in July to 2.6% in February.
Across the continent, around 40 countries are experiencing a second wave of the pandemic, mainly associated with new variants that appear to be more transmissible.
In Africa’s most advanced country, South Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) said a new variant of the virus known as 501.V2 emerged in the country last year. and seems to “spread more easily between people”. A similar variant has also been identified in Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy, where infections – and deaths – have increased in the past two months.
“Our death rate is becoming very disturbing,” said John Nkengasong, director of Africa CDC at a recent press conference in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. “Before, it was the other way around.”
While most of the more than 50 African countries are in debt and underfunded, the continent is struggling to increase testing for the coronavirus. Despite around 1.3 billion people, only around 30 million tests have been recorded since the start of the pandemic. The continent is now looking for help elsewhere.
Over a week ago, the Rockefeller Foundation announced a $ 12 million grant to the African Public Health Foundation to help scale up testing and strengthen community-level contact tracing for COVID-19 in Africa through the African CDC. For a continent very concerned with knowing the true extent of the spread of the pandemic, this development brings a lot of relief.
“Testing is the # 1 tool to fight this pandemic because without testing we will fight blindly,” Nkengasong said. “We also need to find infected people, isolate them and treat them. By helping African Union member states carry out more testing and research to identify and isolate those infected, we can control the virus and limit transmission. “
As the mainland waits for improved coronavirus testing and contact tracing, the impact of the pandemic continues to be felt in cemeteries like Warren Hills in Harare, where corpses pour in every day.
“In my many years of living near the cemetery, I haven’t seen as many people buried here on a daily basis as I have since the start of the year,” Bwalya said. “Zimbabwe must act very quickly against this disease.”
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