By this time last year, the world’s gaze towards Africa was that of pity and scorn, plus predictions of doom given the continent’s dependence on the West and Asia for most of her technological and health needs amid a deadly pandemic.
Today, the same world stares down on the African continent with some trepidation and shock, even with a measure of jealousy.
For a continent whose dilapidated healthcare system is a worry to all, how it navigated the doom predictions hinged on the deadly coronavirus pandemic has bewildered other continents that thought themselves better placed to handle the outbreak.
From Southern Africa to the East, West, and the Horn of Africa, how the continent responded to the COVID-19 outbreak is laudable despite high odds stark against her, ranging from poor healthcare infrastructure to mismanagement of resources to weak policy implementation.
For once, Africa took the bull by the horn in her confrontation with the virus unleashed from Wuhan in China by implementing strict lockdowns, social distancing measures, nose mask-wearing, and other recommendations contained in the Coronavirus advisory issued by the World Health Organization or WHO, and amplified by the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
With fragile healthcare systems across the continent, the alarm bells started ringing immediately after a single case was reported in Africa because of the reported fatalities in China, followed by Europe, Asia, and finally America. It took until March 2020 before Africa followed with its first fatality.
And once that happened, the highly contagious virus began its spread across the continent. But thanks to the proactive steps taken by the Africa Union as it coalesced with African governments to stem the spread and shame the outside world’s predictions and expectations of doom for Africa, known for never doing anything well.
For example, Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, had predicted a deluge of Covid-19 deaths in Africa, likely due to the damning knowledge of Africa’s fragile and dependent healthcare infrastructures. She wasn’t alone in her prediction of doom upon the continent, as many-voiced and unvoiced calamities were prophesied against Africa for the same reason Gates did.
When it was becoming apparent in late 2020 that Africa was unlikely to witness as high mortalities as Europe and America, those who had earlier prophesied doom found an excuse in the fact that most of Africa has a warm climate that is not friendly to the virus, an apparent attempt to play down the unified effort African countries and their populations took to reduce the spread of the virus.
One multi-country survey even said Africa’s warm environment was the only reason the continent did not witness as many COVID-19-related fatalities when, in reality, the climate in Africa varies from region to region.
A different study further brushed off this claim by emphasising that warm weather alone is far from being the reason for low fatalities. Instead, it advised countries most impacted by the virus to focus on health policies and not solely on the weather-based argument.
The miracle of Africa’s staunch resistance and prompt response shows that Africa can get it right within a short time.
“Africa is the only region to have developed a unified strategy against COVID-19”, said the WHO's director-general, Tedros Ghebreyesus.
Such a worthy compliment coming from the world health regulator nailed it all! It shows that while Africa lacked a sophisticated healthcare system, its coordination against the virus was much more critical.
China, the origin of the disease, was gripped with panic at the outbreak of the virus. From America to Europe to Asia to Australia and Africa, this thankless Chinese gift leaped on humanity like an unexpected stormy rain and overwhelmed the most advanced nations on earth and brought them to their knees as they wept, buried, and mourned their dead.
As of today, May 29, 2021, the global infection rate stands at nearly 170 million and deaths at 3.5 million. With her 4.8 million cases and 130,050 deaths, it means that despite having 17.2% of the global population, Africa has only a 2.8% coronavirus burden.
This miracle happened because before COVID-19 vaccines became available, Africa took the lead in stemming the rising tide of the virus by strict compliance to the adage that, ‘prevention is better than cure’; while some developed nations like the US played politics and eventually paid a stiff price.
The Way Forward
Admittedly, it is not yet “Uhuru” for the continent, especially since Africa is yet to produce her COVID-19 vaccine but still depends on vaccines from developed countries. We can, however, build on the progress made.
Each African country should begin to chart for itself a path to an improved modern healthcare delivery system that is functional with technological and scientific capabilities to meet the growing demand for medicare. This should include funding local research into vaccine production to reduce over-dependence on the Western and Asian countries.
If this is done, the continent would be better equipped to not only fight COVID-19 for as long as it lasts; it would also be better positioned to handle future epidemics and pandemics.
In the meantime, African countries and their people can take pride in this one instance where it has achieved a feat in dealing with the COVID-19 better than some other continents.