As of 03 January 2021, the WHO African region is the least affected by the coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, accounting for only 2.4% of cases and deaths reported globally. However, concerns abound about whether the number of cases and deaths reported from the region reflect the true burden of the disease and how the monitoring of the pandemic trajectory can inform response measures.
We retrospectively estimated four key epidemiological parameters (the total number of cases, the number of missed cases, the detection rate and the cumulative incidence) using the COVID-19 prevalence calculator tool developed by Resolve to Save Lives. We used cumulative cases and deaths reported during the period 25 February to 31 December 2020 for each WHO Member State in the region as well as population data to estimate the four parameters of interest. The estimated number of confirmed cases in 42 countries out of 47 of the WHO African region included in this study was 13 947 631 [95% confidence interval (CI): 13 334 620–14 635 502] against 1 889 512 cases reported, representing 13.5% of overall detection rate (range: 4.2% in Chad, 43.9% in Guinea). The cumulative incidence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) was estimated at 1.38% (95% CI: 1.31%–1.44%), with South Africa the highest [14.5% (95% CI: 13.9%–15.2%)] and Mauritius [0.1% (95% CI: 0.099%–0.11%)] the lowest. The low detection rate found in most countries of the WHO African region suggests the need to strengthen SARS-CoV-2 testing capacities and adjusting testing strategies.