COVID-19 in South Africa: Change for the Better

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SEATTLE, Washington — When COVID-19 came onto the world stage in early 2020, many scientists worried about Africa’s response. Researchers feared that African countries did not have the resources to combat the global pandemic. Given the continent’s track record on dealing with diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and Ebola, concerns that Africa would be a hotbed for COVID-19 were well within reason. However, South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, showed the world that African countries do not fit the widely-believed stereotypes of squalor and poverty. Many people praised and studied his response to COVID-19 in South Africa.

It seemed like he learned from his predecessors. His swift and strict lockdown of the country was able to prevent COVID-19 in South Africa from getting out of control. And even though COVID-19 shut down the country, it looks like the response to the disease has had a positive effect on South Africa. It has improved safety nets, public health initiatives and economic reforms. Here are six improvements to South Africa during COVID-19.

6 Improvement to South Africa During COVID-19

  1. Less Gang Violence: Gang violence has plagued South Africa for years, and Cape Town has seen some of the worst of it. In 2018, Cape Town was one of the most violent cities in the world with 66 homicides per 100,000 people. But when COVID-19 hit South Africa in March 2020, gangs called for a national ceasefire, and violent crime fell 75%. South Africa’s lockdown also interrupted the drug supply chains, and many gang-afflicted communities in South Africa are feeling the reprieve.
  2. Fewer Alcohol-Related Deaths: South Africans have the highest rate of drinking out of any African country. This has greatly contributed to the country’s high rate of alcohol-related deaths. Part of the COVID-19 in South Africa lockdown was also a ban on alcohol. Since the law was passed, the country has seen fewer alcohol-related deaths. One hospital “had a two-thirds drop in trauma cases” following the ban. During Easter weekend 2020, the country saw a stunning 81% decrease in road fatality cases compared to the number of those who died in crashes during Easter weekend 2019. The alcohol ban opened the country’s eyes to the drastic alcohol problem it faces.
  3. Better Welfare Services: The economic ramifications of shutting the country down caused South Africa’s government to provide a $26 billion welfare and business support package. This was no small stimulus package because it was equivalent to about 10% of the nation’s GDP. Experts predict the plan will only grow as the pandemic continues. The plan provided for more than business bailouts. Caregivers will receive more money, and six million people could earn monthly unemployment benefits.
  4. Stronger Calls for Public Hygiene: COVID-19 has also brought to light the need for stronger public health initiatives. The lockdown exposed the discrepancy between how many people were thought to have had access to clean water and those who actually were able to obtain it. Informal settlements are the most at risk. In Cape Town, as many as five families will share one toilet. The worldwide consensus that a strong healthcare system and robust public hygiene are essential to fighting the coronavirus. This is putting pressure on South Africa’s leadership to expand public health initiatives. The immediate plan is to distribute water from 41,000 tanks during the lockdown.
  5. Economic Reform: South Africa is still transitioning its economy from the legacy of apartheid. COVID-19 has affected low-income families who work in manufacturing, tourism, service and transportation more than any other group in the country. Citizens felt economic devastation unequally across the country and that reinforced the need for a new economic plan. A specific investigating unit has already received permission to look into corruption. Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has ideas for widespread, structural reforms for state-owned enterprises. Essentially, South Africa missed its opportunity to transform its economy after apartheid. However, COVID-19 is giving the country a chance for “New Deal” style economic reforms.
  6. Learning from the Past: The difference in South Africa’s response to COVID-19 as opposed to the HIV response (or lack thereof) is a clear indicator that South Africa is learning from its mistakes in dealing with the HIV/AIDs crisis. Healthcare professionals and activists in South Africa praised the country’s response to the pandemic. As of late August, the country had about 985,803 COVID-19 recoveries. South Africa has even deployed thousands of healthcare workers to administer door-to-door testing and screening.

COVID-19 in South Africa is not over by any means. The disease will not leave the country unchanged. Instead, it may leave in its wake a safer, more equitable society that will not only be more equipped to deal with diseases in the future but will also treat its citizens fairly even when it is not in the midst of a global pandemic.

– Hannah Daniel
Photo: Flickr

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