Expert Speak India with Africa
Published on Mar 31, 2020
COVID19: An African perspective

The COVID-19 pandemic that has overwhelmed the world due to its terrifyingly contagious nature is invariably spreading across the African continent. The causalities have been rising at an unprecedented rate with increased fatality. By 28 March, the world had registered more than 5 million cases and 26,654 deaths. As per the World Health Organisation, the African region saw 2,831 cases and 48 deaths from 41 counties and territories.  One may wonder the short and long-term impact of Covid 19 on the global economy more so on the poor resourced and under-developed countries, especially in Africa.

While medically equipped and resourced countries such as the US, China, Germany, Italy, France, and the UK are struggling with the pandemic, Africa’s situation could turn out to be devastating, to say the least. The African continent should, therefore prepare itself for the socio-economic impact that Covid 19 will bring, considering the fact that remittance from African migrants in these countries contribute significantly to the national GDPs.

The treatment and care of infected people require appropriate medical facilities and skilled personnel. The health infrastructure in many African countries is inadequate due to a lack of qualified personnel, equipment, and supplies. The region is currently battling with the combined effects of a resurgence of certain communicable diseases such as measles and meningitis and the emergence of Non-Communicable Diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. A fundamental aspect of this dual disease is a burden in the shortage of health professionals, especially nurses and doctors. Recent years have seen a migration of skilled healthcare professionals to the greener pastures of the western world, mainly driven by the poor economic situation in many African countries. Currently, Africa’s doctor-patient ratio is estimated to be 1:5,000, far worse than the WHO desired 1:1,000. This poses serious challenges to Africa’s management of the Covid 19 situation, in addition to its dual disease burden. The treatment, care, and prevention of Covid 19 also require a strong surveillance system and well-equipped laboratories, presently lacking in many African countries. The Covid 19 preparedness and response plan will, therefore, put a considerable strain on the already overstretched health care systems of most African countries.

Poor transportation systems in these countries make them more susceptible to the spread of infections like Covid 19. In most African countries, specifically the sub- Sharan region, transport networks are poor. Unlike the western world, where people depend on the well-kept public transportation system, people traveling in many parts of Africa face a hectic and crowded system. Additionally, transport networks in Africa are ill kept and unhygienic, thus providing an ideal medium for the transmission of the virus. The socio-cultural livelihood of its people is another point of vulnerability for African society. The probability of the novel coronavirus to be present is higher in an inherently social and religious society, where people tend to gather in large crowds. Since one of the factors that favors the spread of Covid 19 is close contact, especially in congregations and crowds, the socio-cultural life in Africa is a potential avenue for the spread of the virus.

If the recommended preventive measures are not taken and a cure is not provided sooner rather than later, the social and economic impact of Covid 19 will be disastrous for the African continent. Many people in the continent live on less than US$1.25 a day and many more live on casual labor. If the pandemic gets to the point of a lockdown level, many of the countries in Africa may face a catastrophe, particularly with regards to poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition. The people likely to be most hit by these are the petty traders, small time farmers, and the unskilled workers.

Governments should take stringent measures to curb the spread of Covid 19, which may not go down well with our social, cultural, trade and religious practices. Although measures such as the closure of borders and airspaces can help curb the spread, this will however not only affect tourism (a significant contributor to GDP) but may also jeopardize some of the continental and regional protocols such as the free movement of goods and services.

From this perspective, the author’s appeal and recommendations to all African countries, governments and citizens is as follows:

  • Adopt the desirable and recommended hygienic practices from the WHO and country health authorities. Hand washing, social distancing and facemasks are mandatory considering the highly congested atmosphere in the transit system.
  • Strengthen the surveillance system for contact tracing at airports, ports and other borders, to ensure infected personnel are quarantines before contact with population.
  • Provide necessary equipment to the health facilities for testing probable patients. Additionally, there is a need for protective equipment for doctors and nurses to ensure foolproof safety.
  • Provide immediate monetary support to medical laboratories to enhance testing.
  • Practice social distancing by especially avoiding gathering at ceremonies, markets, mosques and churches. Most countries have adopted a work-from-home approach in order to limit the spread of the virus and ensure the health of the sick and elderly; African authorities are urged to follow the same.
  • Raise public awareness on the facts about the disease to dispel misconceptions and rumors. With Coronavirus’s increased global impact, there has been an increase in stigmatization and spread of false information, causing panic amongst the masses. African countries are urged to ensure that public panic remains afar by holding virtual information sessions and workshops to ensure proper awareness of the virus, its impact and ways of staying healthy.
  • African governments must provide relief packages to the community, specially the daily wage workers and small businesses, to support the everyday livelihood of the population. Moreover, rations and subsidies must be given to those in need.

While the world is facing the adverse impacts of Covid 19, together we will be able to stop the spread of this pandemic and resuscitate the global economy.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Malang N Fofana

Malang N Fofana

Malang N Fofana Public Health Nutritionist National Nutrition Agency (NaNA) The Gambia

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