CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — For months, experts have warned of a potential nightmare scenario: After overwhelming health systems in some of the world’s wealthiest regions, the coronavirus gains a foothold in poor or war-torn countries ill-equipped to contain it and sweeps through the population.
Now some of those fears are being realized.
In southern Yemen, health workers are leaving their posts en masse because of a lack of protective equipment, and some hospitals are turning away patients struggling to breathe. In Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region, where there is little testing capacity, a mysterious illness resembling COVID-19 is spreading through camps for the internally displaced.
Cases are soaring in India and Pakistan, together home to more than 1.5 billion people and where authorities say nationwide lockdowns are no longer an option because of high poverty.
In Latin America, Brazil has a confirmed caseload and death count second only to the United States, and its leader is unwilling to take steps to stem the spread of the virus. Alarming escalations are unfolding in Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Panama, even after they imposed early lockdowns.
The first reports of disarray are also emerging from hospitals in South Africa, which has its continent’s most developed economy. Sick patients are lying on beds in corridors as one hospital runs out of space. At another, an emergency morgue was needed to hold more than 700 bodies.
"We are reaping the whirlwind now,” said Francois Venter, a South African health expert at the University of Witswatersrand in Johannesburg.
Worldwide, there are 10 million confirmed cases and over 500,000 reported deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University of government reports. Experts say both those numbers are serious undercounts of the true toll of the pandemic, due to limited testing and missed mild cases.
South Africa has more than a third of Africa’s confirmed cases of COVID-19. It’s ahead of other African countries in the pandemic timeline and approaching its peak. If its facilities break under the strain, it will be a grim forewarning because South Africa’s health system is reputed to be the continent’s best.
Most poor countries took action early on. Some, like Uganda, which already had a sophisticated detection system built up during its yearslong battle with viral hemorrhagic fever, have thus far been arguably more successful than the U.S. and other wealthy countries in battling coronavirus.
But since the beginning of the pandemic, poor and conflict-ravaged
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