COVID-19 in Africa: The Future And The International Community’s Response.
The Global Challenge of Uncertainties.
Tracking the Coronavirus Pandemic: World map on April 27, 2020. bloomberg.com
As leaders of nations all over the world seek solutions to the lethal invisible foe, SARS-CoV-2, the relative sparing of Africa from the viciousness of the Coronavirus is quite noticeable.
The reasons for this phenomenon are not quite clear, but scientists have suggested that warm climate and the level of humidity might be factors at play.
The striking difference in the degree of the spread of the virus in the Northern and Southern hemispheres suggests that maybe this coronavirus has some temperature or humidity sensitivity which reduces its spread when conditions are warmer or more humid.
Many African nations have poor medical and public health infrastructure and may be less able to test and report infections and many infections may go undocumented. Thus, the number of infections and deaths may be significantly more than reported.
Nonetheless, the African countries appear not to have the high number of deaths reported by countries in the Northern hemisphere. This relative sparing of Africa is one of the silver lining — if there is any — and maybe a precious gift of “Nature”, i.e. climate, amidst this horrific pandemic.
Today, there is an overwhelming presence of China in Africa with back and forth passenger traffic. China’s penetration in all facets of life of the people in the continent is visible in the travel industry, construction and maintenance of airports, train services and other forms of transportation.
Thus, it is with immense gratitude to “Nature” that the world should acknowledge the low penetration of the Coronavirus in Africa, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, at least for now.
In virtually all indices of human development, Sub-Saharan Africa is the poorest region in the world. The region’s healthcare system is the worst in the world in terms of access, quantity and quality.
What does the future hold for Africa and for mankind if the next lethal virus is not so kind to Africa and is able to overrun Africa’s natural defensive armada against other viruses?
This is a question that should produce heartburn now and in the future, in the leaders of the developed world and among scientists. Can anybody imagine the scope of the mortality and morbidity if SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen responsible for the current pandemic has affected Sub-Saharan African countries with the same virulence it has affected Europe and the USA?
The Ebola epidemic of 2014 and 2015 that ravaged Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa revealed the scope of the deficiencies in the healthcare systems of the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Regarding the Ebola epidemic and plans to combat future outbreaks, in 2015, Dr. Christian Brechot, President of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France wrote in the journal, NATURE:
“Stamping out the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was always going to be difficult, and so it is proving. But the world is already talking about what to do ‘post-Ebola’. Although there is general agreement on what needs to be improved — chiefly, local capacity and healthcare — to ensure a better response to the next epidemic, there have been few concrete actions. Why? Because all global movements must start with a nucleus around which broader efforts can aggregate. This has not yet been established. Here, I describe how the Pasteur Institute in Paris could form part of such a nucleus, and collaborate with the relevant national and international stakeholders.” (Christian Brechot, “Train Africa’s Scientists in Crisis Response: Nature 524.7563: August 6, 2015: 7).
There are still uncertainties about COVID-19 and its aftermath. However, in Asia, Europe and North America, the first responders, medical professionals, scientists and several leaders have answered the call to combat the virus with bravery, selflessness and sacrifice.
Although the challenge has been daunting even for the developed nations of the world, the basic infrastructure and fundamentals to execute plans were already in place in varying degrees.
However, in the majority of the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa, the infrastructure is virtually non-existent. Furthermore, the fundamental requirements for the execution of plans, namely the medical professional staff, political leadership, delivery of information to the people and data collection capabilities are very scarce.
The negative global consequences of the huge deficiencies in the healthcare systems in African countries should concern the International community. When things return to some normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic, this issue must be addressed by a consortium consisting of members from all over the globe. This can be done in collaboration with the World Health Organization. The stakes for mankind are too high.
The mammoth corruption and chronic leadership failure in the majority of the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa has manifested itself in huge deficits in several sectors including healthcare. This will, at some point result in an infestation that could blindside and devastate Africa and the rest of the world. This can occur in a fashion that not even the best scientists can possibly foresee.
It is not a question of if a pandemic may originate in Sub-Saharan Africa, it is a question of when and where. Nobody can predict the future with certainty, but we can prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Right now, Africa is arguably the least prepared continent for the worst.
Hopefully, COVID-19 will be a wake-up call for the leaders of the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa to get their houses in order. Positive change in the region must come from within. Why? Because the post-independent history of these nations has shown that no amount of foreign aid can solve the problems of corruption and poor governance.
The uncertainties of COVID-19 in Africa and its aftermath should be addressed multilaterally. The advice of Dr. Brechot and other similar admonitions must be taken seriously for the sake of protection of the health and wellbeing of mankind from a lethal pandemic that will at some point originate in Africa.
The plans to address the healthcare infrastructure deficits in Africa must be authored by Africans with help from the developed world. It should not be a plan developed in New York, Washington, London, Paris, Brussels, Beijing or New Delhi and then fed to Africans. Hopefully, that would begin the process of at least attempting to wean off the region from dependency on non-Africans to fix the problems in their healthcare systems.