NASHVILLE, Tennessee — The June 24, 2021 announcement of $97 million in aid from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) came at a vital time for COVID-19 relief in Africa. As confirmed cases continue to increase on the continent, global health officials have warned that Africa’s third wave of the pandemic will be the worst the world has seen yet.
COVID-19 in Africa
Throughout the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Africa’s cases remained astonishingly low compared to the rest of the world. Media outlets speculated about African immunity to the virus, and African health officials were grateful not to face the devastatingly high infection rates that the U.S. and other countries were fighting. More than a year later, the regional director for Africa at the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, expressed her concern about the continent’s third wave in a July briefing. This new wave comes following the rapid spread of highly contagious variants of the Coronavirus, and it is exacerbated by the viral invasion of rural communities. As urban hospitals are quickly filling to capacity, the need for COVID-19 relief in Africa has become more apparent than ever before.
Bombardment of Africa’s Healthcare System
Before the third wave of the pandemic, Africa’s COVID-19 hotspots were primarily urban, and many rural communities remained sheltered from the pandemic for a year or more. For this reason, almost all of the vaccinations in Africa have been prioritized for urban community members. At the same time, because the risk seemed so low in agrarian areas, rural community members did not practice many preventative measures.
As the virus became more and more prevalent in rural areas, though, it soon became clear that their healthcare facilities were not equipped to deal with the volume and needs of COVID-19 patients. Rural healthcare workers referred their patients to urban facilities, so the continent’s biggest and most prepared hospitals were burdened like never before. By July 8, 2021, the confirmed case numbers for Africa were doubling every 18 days and the rates were still on the rise.
The continent reports having 6.6 million confirmed cases, which is low compared to the United States’ 35 million However, the stark disparity in healthcare capacity makes dealing with such rates more difficult in Africa.
Although national governments prioritized the protection of their own citizens, global healthcare leaders have been working to help low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) withstand the pandemic and its secondary effects. USAID lists several goals for helping LMICs combat COVID, including emergency relief and vaccine support. Before the $97 million more that was announced this June 2021, USAID had already contributed two billion dollars to the international Vaccine Alliance and has agreed to donate American vaccines on top of that.
Vaccine donations are the only feasible way to provide COVID-19 immunization in Africa since most countries cannot afford to buy them from the international market. USAID is also focused on developing more vaccine manufacturing capabilities in Africa to fight this pandemic and prepare for the future.
Additionally, USAID is working to mitigate the detrimental secondary effects of the pandemic. For low-income countries, the toll on the workforce may severely impact the already unstable economies. Leaders in poverty-reduction efforts fear that many people will shift back into extreme poverty during and after the pandemic, and with this shift come numerous problems, such as increased crime and conflict and decreased public health. For these reasons, the continent’s instability requires more and various COVID-19 relief in Africa.
Where Will This Money Go?
The recently announced $97 million in aid has been allocated to specific African countries based on their immediate needs. The seven countries receiving this aid are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia and Uganda. These countries have reported infection rates ranging from 0.022% to 0.7% of their populations. Although the percentages seem low, these countries are some of the most vulnerable to lasting tragedy from the secondary impacts. This aid has been allocated according to the countries’ specific needs, which might include medical and food support, transportation of resources to rural areas and protection for vulnerable populations.
The hopes are that these resources will help buffer the countries’ experiences during the third wave of COVID-19 in Africa. This might alleviate some of the worst of each nation’s pressures. The U.S. and other leaders have noticed and responded to the needs of LMICs during the pandemic, and the third wave sparked the newest allocation of the United States’ COVID-19 relief in Africa.
– Hayley Welch
Photo: Wikimedia Commons