Coronavirus in Africa ? Apocalypse or containment ?

In an April 10 interview with CNN, the billionaire American philanthropist Melinda Gates expressed her belief that the coronavirus pandemic will have the worst impact in the developing world. She said she foresees dead  bodies lying around in the street of African countries.

There have indeed been shocking reports of hospitals overwhelmed with patients and dead bodies left to decompose in homes and in the streets. However, these reports referred to the USA and Europe including Spain and Italy, rather than Africa, where there have been no such reports.  

Clearly, despite the massive crisis in the West, some of their leaders continue to insist that a whole continent of 54 countries will collectively and inevitably experience apocalypse as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

A report released by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in April stated: “Anywhere between 300,000 and 3.3 million African people could lose their lives as a direct result of COVID-19.”

This is especially because the prediction of millions of COVID-19 deaths in Africa is difficult to reconcile with the present growth rate and the reality on the ground. As of 6th May, there were a total of 52,713  COVID-19 cases on the continent and 2,015 deaths reported.

Despite Africa accounting for 17% of the world’s population (1.336 billion of 7.783 billion), the continent currently account for only 1.3% of total reported cases and 0.7% of reported deaths. Click source link

To put this into perspective, based on the lowest projection from UNECA and at the present growth rate, African nations would need to see at least 7.6 millionconfirmed infections to be able to reach 300,000 deaths; 84 million people will have to be infected continent-wide for the UNECA projected 3.3 million deaths to happen. 

Many African countries have long experience in dealing with infectious diseases and  have developed know-how that many Western countries lack. and many African leaders are also aware of their fragile healthcare systems – unlike some of their Western counterparts.

African governments understand that their most effective strategy in the battle against COVID-19 is prevention and applying lessons learned from previous and/or ongoing outbreaks.

South Africa had their 1st case on 5th March and  the prime minister announced a state of disaster with travel restrictions on 15th March followed by  lockdown on 26th March for 3 weeks until 16th April.  

The government produced a very comprehensive alert system with 5 five levels with a risk adjusted strategy for economic activity after the partial lifting of restrictions on May 1st. However, South Africa’s COVID-19 lockdown is expected to delay the peak infection rate until September 2020, thereby lessening the strain on the country’s healthcare system during the cold winter months. Click for link

Uganda has already redirected its screening efforts and systems from combatting Ebola into its current interventions against COVID-19. Even before the country registered its first case, President Yoweri Museveni put in place travel restrictions and social distancing measures that advanced into full lockdown. Since the first case was announced on March 22, Uganda has seen a total of 100 cases, 55 recoveries, and no deaths. 

Rwanda was quick to react, too. Shortly after the outbreak was confirmed in January, the government organised a committee to evaluate and bolster preparedness and response to the pandemic and trained about 500 health workers, including laboratory technicians to cope with a potential national epidemic. 

Senegal is another example where local experts are leading the way in developing critical interventions during the pandemic. The West African country has used its experience in fighting HIV-AIDS and Ebola to create a $1 COVID-19 testing kit, a cost-effective and necessary resource it plans to share with other countries on the continent.

In Nigeria, drive-through COVID-19 testing has been deployed. People who suspect they may have the disease register online, are screened to ascertain whether they qualify for a test, drive through a testing centre, if they meet the parameters, and then receive their results electronically too. 

Mauritius has enforced a lockdown and rolled out mass testing, planning to have 100,000 people (roughly 10 percent of its population) tested in the span of two weeks. The island nation has established strong social welfare buffers and mobilised its healthcare facilities, which boast 3.4 hospital beds per 1,000 people – more than some Western nations have, including the UK, the US and Canada. 

And Somalia, defying the usual media stereotypes about the country, announced in later March that it was sending 20 doctors who had volunteered to help the fight against the virus in Italy.

Indeed, there surely will be some African countries where the COVID-19 outbreak will have a devastating impact. But painting with a wide brush a whole continent of 54 countries and dismissing efforts of African governments to deal with the situation is simply wrong.

A study released by the World Health Organisation this week predicts that between 29 million to 44 million people could become infected in the first year of the pandemic if containment measures fail. This “would overwhelm the available medical capacity in much of Africa” where there are only nine intensive care unit beds per million people.

“While Covid-19 likely won’t spread as exponentially in Africa as it has elsewhere in the world, it likely will smoulder in transmission hotspots,” said the director of the World Health Organization’s Africa region, Dr Matshidiso Moeti. “Covid-19 could become a fixture in our lives for the next several years unless a proactive approach is taken by many governments in the region. We need to test, trace, isolate and treat.”

The research looked at 47 countries in the WHO African Region with a total population of one billion. Click full source.

There is a time and place for every culture and country to be the expert, to be the frontrunner and African countries deserve to be perceived as autonomous, complex, and nuanced as any other country.

Click for full source of main article.

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