The spread of the coronavirus in Africa has exposed the precarious nature of many of its healthcare systems. I am writing this at a fraught time in the history of public healthcare on the continent.
A pre-COVID-19 survey by Afrobarometer, an online data analysis tool, found that one in five Africans faced a frequent lack of much-needed healthcare services.
Africa’s investment in health has repeatedly been called out but little has been done to boost financial investment. Now the chickens have come home to roost.
The number of those suffering from the coronavirus is still low compared to what has been witnessed in the United States, Britain, Europe and even Asia. Africa was the last frontier in the incipient spread of the virus.
The first coronavirus case was reported on the continent on February 14 in Egypt.
On the 18th of March, the first case in sub-Saharan Africa was reported in Nigeria.
The slow spread in the continent gave false hope that Africa and its people would be spared the worst of the pandemic. But when it started to spread, the reality sunk in fast. It exposed what we have always known for a long time. Most of Africa’s healthcare systems are not adequately equipped and their fragility is one outbreak away from a total nightmare.
Measures taken by countries
The initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic by individual countries in Africa was swift. Travel restrictions, total lockdowns and even curfews have been applied by different authorities.
Rwanda, for instance, announced an immediate lockdown, and has been supplying water and food to its vulnerable populations; South Africa announced a national lockdown and set in motion dozens of mobile testing units, with a combined daily testing capacity of 30,000. Nigeria has extended its lockdown in Lagos and Abuja.
Kenya, on the other hand, instituted a nationwide dawn-to-dusk curfew, while limiting movement within its capital city and environs to insulate the rest of the country.
Another plus is that the vast majority of Africa’s population lives in rural areas, which means less crowding and limited social interactions.
The other strength is that some African countries have some experience combating communicable diseases like tuberculosis, HIV, Ebola, Rift Valley fever, among others.