In a statement released on Tuesday, the Central American section of the United Nations’ international body, the World Health Organization, said that the five Southern African countries on its list of “very high” travel risk countries are among “50-plus countries” across the globe that are at risk for outbreaks.
Despite the fact that the area of Africa on the WHO list is a relatively small one, its size alone makes it a major concern for infectious disease experts. In recent years, health officials in Africa have struggled to contain various diseases, and the CDC points to weak surveillance systems as a crucial obstacle in keeping up with the disease spread across the continent.
As Reuters points out, the provinces of Eastern Cape, Limpopo, the Free State, and North West, which comprise the southern half of the region where the top-risk countries fall, have the highest concentrations of people on the list. (Note that all three provinces are represented in Africa’s top 10 list for highest risk countries for Ebola.)
The Intercontinental Hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Pallavi Arya/Getty Images)
The top-risk countries on the WHO list include several prominent ones that are set to play a major role in the 2022 soccer World Cup and have experienced outbreaks of new diseases in recent years. Saudi Arabia, for example, was placed on the list after the company that is running the Saudi sports stadiums where the event will be held suffered from outbreaks of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
There is evidence that South Africa has a “double-edge sword” of which it needs to be more aware, according to the CDC statement. Much of the focus of the country’s efforts over the past 10 years has been on fighting the spread of Zika, and since the majority of South Africans do not know much about the disease, the risk of cross-infection with other viruses remains a serious threat. In the last decade, South Africa has struggled to contain a range of tropical diseases including dengue fever, chikungunya, and malaria.