US billionaire and software developer Bill Gates has warned that the coronavirus epidemic could overwhelm the health services of Africa and trigger a pandemic which may lead to 10 million deaths in the continent.
The Microsoft founder and philanthropist was speaking at the annual meeting of an American scientific society in Seattle, Washington, amid growing concerns about the coronavirus outbreak.
As Gates was speaking, news broke that the first case of coronavirus had been confirmed on the continent, as a person in Cairo, Egypt, tested positive for the disease.
“This is a huge challenge,” Gates said. “We’ve always known that the potential for either a naturally caused or intentionally caused pandemic is one of the few things that could disrupt health systems, economies and cause more than 10 million excess deaths.”
“This disease, if it’s in Africa, is more dramatic than if it’s in China,” noting that he was “not trying to minimize what’s going on in China in any way.”
There are now fears that the disease could spread to sub-Saharan Africa where it could spark an uncontrollable outbreak, with health services unable to monitor or control the virus.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the charitable foundation that he and his wife, Melinda Gates, established in 2000, recently committed $100 million to fighting the coronavirus.
As of Sunday, the death toll in mainland China reached 1,770, up by 105 from the previous day, while there were 2,048 new cases, bringing the total count to 70,548.
Over 500 cases have been confirmed outside China, mostly of people who traveled from Chinese cities, with five deaths in Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and France.
Chinese authorities say the stabilization in the number of new cases is a sign that measures they have taken to halt the spread of the disease are having an effect. However, epidemiologists and economists warn optimism that the disease might be under control is premature.
Chinese leaders already were struggling to shore up economic growth that slowed to 6.1 percent last year due to weak consumer demand and a trade war with the US. Some economists, citing industry surveys and other data, say real growth already was much weaker than that.