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Covid-19 in Africa: a catastrophe is coming

The time for action to prevent a catastrophe is running out. If Europe and the United States say that, for them, the worst is yet to come, imagine the immeasurable tragedy that Africa will suffer. Already, the economic consequences of the current pandemic are felt on every level, and this health emergency – of incalculable consequences – will also have political implications.


Ángel Villa Hernández


After centuries of slavery, colonialism, discrimination and setback, the African continent welcomed the 21st century with new vigour, ready to show that it could transform the lives of its millions of citizens. And at the start of 2020, efforts began to finalise the African Continental Free Trade Area supported by sustained economic growth of above 4% and the Single African Air Transport Market.

But then, Covid-19 officially arrived.

And the world seems not to care. But then we seem to have long forgotten that the main causes of death in Africa are malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and other illnesses; and almost forgotten the terrible Ebola crisis in West Africa in 2014-2015, repeated to a lesser degree last year with the outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Today, the world’s media is primarily focused on China, Europe and the United States, and the visible realities faced by these major global economies supposedly better prepared for an eventuality like coronavirus.

There are important voices – WHO included that are raising the alarm about Africa, a continent which currently reports low levels of infection and death, and no major reports of indigenous transmission, but which evidently seems to be concealing shocking figures, given the socio-economic reality.

Although the majority of Africa’s 55 nations already have laboratories capable of detecting this virus, not all are carrying out large-scale testing or aggressive action to discover potential cases.

This is due to current governmental policies, which in part are restricted by the unavailability of testing kits, the limited capacities for processing them and the impossibility of providing medical attention to a flood of infected people.

Faced with the current Covid-19 crisis, African governments have adopted diverse policies that range from total closure of borders, school closures and total suspension of activities, to conducting centralised awareness-raising campaigns about the virus.

However, in Africa, many populations remain cut off from access to electricity, drinking water, health services, education and internet, among other things.

This leaves millions of people in real poverty – and the decisions made by their governments on hygiene and social distancing, if they do indeed hear about them, remain unattainable pipe dreams.

Therefore, if Covid-19 does achieve local transmission in Africa – as is highly likely – it will only be a matter of time before the figures for the malnourished, displaced, illiterate, refugees and other extremely vulnerable groups top the list of casualties.

Both Ebola and Covid-19 have demonstrated that traditions and customs in Africa are an excellent vehicle for rapid transmission; therefore, no matter how many closures are established, no African head of state will be able to raise awareness among their entire population of the need to refrain from hugging or kissing.

Likewise, with frequent handwashing and maintaining distance; when these habits are enforced, they will be hampered by deep-rooted religious beliefs, traditional rituals, extremely overcrowded classrooms, precarious health services, popular and overwhelmed transport methods, and frequent and large-scale funerals. Meanwhile, qualified personnel and the resources to face situations of this nature are generally scarce.

If countries that do have access to advanced medical technologies, in many cases with populations lower than those in Africa, have not been able to cope with this illness with the desired decorum, imagine what will happen in this region of the world.

In addition, it should be noted that those who have traditionally donated resources to Africa are currently at the epicentre of the crisis, which significantly reduces the possibilities of guaranteeing immediate aid for these countries.

It also forces them to defer or forget preventative and curative measures, which will be paid for with spikes in the medium and long term.

Today, in various regions in Africa, we see churches ignoring government directives and calling for mass attendance at prayers for protection from the virus; and also countries that, in their eagerness to impose centralised measures, have stopped foreign trade, which affects the very possibility of receiving emergency foreign aid.

Meanwhile, in many others there is no well-defined protocol for treating this illness, just a proliferation of ill-conceived plans, linked to traditional medicine, which could very well prevent the flu, but not the new coronavirus. (PL)

(Translated by Rebecca Ndhlovu – Email: Pixabay


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