SEATTLE, Washington — The general consensus is that the African continent as a whole is ill-equipped to be able to deal with a pandemic of the scale seen with COVID-19. In addition, overpopulation and other social and environmental factors make social distancing and other preventative measures difficult. Yet on the positive side, confirmed cases are still low in comparison to other parts of the world, and infrastructure from the Ebola crisis in 2014 still remains. Here are nine facts about the coronavirus in Africa.
9 Facts about the Coronavirus in Africa
- At least 10 countries have enacted a lockdown on their air and land borders. However, many people only live ostensibly within the borders of their country due to the fact that the lines were artificially drawn during the colonial era. Irregular crossing points that connect long-standing tribes and families abound across the official borders.
- South Africa currently has the most confirmed cases with about 2,028 cases as of April 12. Egypt has the second most confirmed cases with 1.939, and Algeria has the third most cases with 1,825. The question of actual case count remains as these countries also have tested more than others. As of April 12, there were a total of 13,636 cases across the continent.
- South Africa has been able to test more than 47,000 people. Soon the country will have the capacity to test 25,000 people a day. According to one report, South Africa has acted faster and more efficiently than any other African country. However, that has not come without cost. Police have been accused of abuse against citizens in enforcing the lockdown.
- Social distancing is challenging for most African countries. WHO and many ministries of health have asked people to self-quarantine if they think they have been exposed to the virus. However, the physical infrastructure of cities and the realities of daily life make that difficult. Makoko in Lagos, for example, has 300,000 homes built on a lagoon. There are other informal markets and environments that suffer from similar overcrowding.
- “Most countries in the region have fewer than five hospital beds” and two medical doctors per 10,000 of the population. Italy, by contrast, has 34 hospital beds per 10,000. The potential for overwhelming healthcare systems in African countries is high. While the African population is young, the prevalence of underlying health conditions is a risk factor, such as hypertension and diabetes.
- Initially, only two countries had the means to test for COVID-19 at the beginning of the outbreak. Now, more than 40 countries in Africa are able to test. While many countries have the ability to test, testing has been focused more on points of entry. As a result, these countries may have missed many cases that were already within the country. In addition, many countries have been screening using body temperature alone, which will not catch the cases still in the incubation phase.
- The World Bank projects that COVID-19 will plunge Africa into a recession. In total, the pandemic is expected to cost between $37 billion and $79 billion. Nigeria, Angola and South Africa are expected to be hit hardest since they have the largest economies in the region. The bank is calling for cash transfers and food distribution to help ameliorate the situation.
- There are only three ventilators for every five million people. The lack of ventilators and difficulties in implementing social distancing contribute to Africa’s vulnerability. Many African cities are densely populated and have informal work settings. Sanitation is also an issue. In Kenya, for example, 86 percent of people do not have access to handwashing facilities in their homes.
- The Jack Ma and Alibaba Foundations have donated 1.5 million test kits to the continent. In addition, they have donated 20,000 laboratory diagnostic test kits, 100,000 medical masks and 1,000 protective suits and face shields. This comes amid already growing fears that the continent is ill-prepared for a pandemic of this scale. On the plus side, the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention has provided at least some healthcare infrastructure since its creation during the 2014-2016 Ebola crisis.
These nine facts about the coronavirus in Africa show that the continent has a tremendous challenge to face. Lack of access to healthcare, overcrowding in cities and difficulty implementing widespread social distancing could make Africa particularly vulnerable to this contagious pandemic. Only time will tell how Africa’s young population will rebound.
– Caleb Steven Carr