Confirmed COVID cases across African countries have risen by 500% in the past two months and more than doubled in July, amidst dire testing shortfalls and poor access to data on the actual extent of the pandemic in crisis-affected countries on the continent. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) fears that our COVID response is fighting the epidemic in the dark, and COVID-19 cases are much higher than official numbers suggest.

A lack of data due to a variety of factors – such as testing capacity, health infrastructure devastated by conflict, and stigma – is seriously impacting the ability to plan and execute an effective COVID response. The International Rescue Committee is working to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in crisis-affected countries across the continent, but is calling for a major increase in funding and international support to increase testing and mitigate the spread of the virus.

Stacey Mearns, Senior Technical Advisor of Emergency Health at the IRC, said, “Where testing is insufficient, we are fighting this disease in the dark. The doubling of confirmed COVID cases in July across African countries is alarming, but we are worried that this could be the tip of the iceberg. For all the countries where we work in the region, testing rates fall far below WHO guidelines. Without testing, there are indeed ‘no cases’ – but this does not mean the virus is not spreading unchecked. For example, in Somalia, 32% of those tested are positive – in contrast to 3% in Germany – indicating that a huge proportion of COVID cases are going undetected, leaving the pandemic to spread freely.