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06.05.2020 Feature Article

COVID-19: A test of Africa’s preparedness for pandemics

COVID-19: A test of Africa’s preparedness for pandemics
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Background
Africa is a continent filled with an abundance of natural resources such as cocoa, timber, oil, gold, diamond, and other precious minerals. However, the image of the continent has rather been dire and dark. Africa has been at the epi center for many epidemics and pandemics including the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Malaria, Tuberculosis, Ebola, Zika, etc. All of these diseases have at some point in history threatened the fabrics of Africa’s health system. Now, there is the rampage of the novel corona virus pandemic which was first recorded in Wuhan, a city in the Hubei Province in China. The WHO on March 11, 2020 declared COVID-19 a pandemic [1]. According to the reports from the Worldometer, as at May 5, the total confirmed cases in Africa was 49,719 with 1,903 deaths and 16,817 recoveries [2]. This implies about 33.8% of the confirmed cases having recovered. This development stirs my mind as to whether this pandemic is a test of Africa’s preparedness for pandemics.

Critical issues
The statistics for Africa’s cases seems to be small and impressive. However, it must be noted that most African countries lack the robust disease surveillance system and response teams that can conduct lots of testing and contact tracing. Hence, it can be assumed that the region is reporting low cases of the pandemic because of under-reporting or low testing rate [3]. Thus, the fragility of Africa’s health system is a major concern and undermines their preparedness for pandemics. This fragility of Africa’s health system denotes that less testing and contact tracing will be done. It also implies that many African countries may not be able to carry out effective isolation of suspected and actual cases. This is spells out doom for Africa as the region is likely to become the global epi center in the coming weeks.

Simulations of the spread of the COVID-19 in Africa suggests that by May 1, 2020, all African countries would have cases exceeding 1,000 [4]. Similarly, it is estimated in the unmitigated scenario, Africa is likely to experience 1 billion infections and 2.4 million deaths; 450 million infections and 1.2 million deaths in a moderate suppression scenario; and, 110 million infections and 300,000 deaths in an aggressive suppression scenario [5]. Consequently, it is expedient for the leaders and governments across the continent of Africa to channel their resources into forming a coordinated intervention towards mitigating this pandemic.

This calls for more financial priority and commitment towards health systems in Africa. Many countries in Africa do not include health research and development in their budget allocation and for that matter, health systems research and advancement have continually had to rely heavily on donor support which may not come on time or may come with strings attached which not be in the best interest of the country. Therefore, in order for Africa to be prepared for future pandemics of this nature, it is imperative that the health system is outsourced with the needed financial budgetary allocations. Also, it is important for African leaders to invest in the training of human resources to engage in scientific research that can facilitate the control of this pandemic and future pandemics. Again, the establishment of a robust surveillance system will be instrumental in the fight against the COVID-19 and future pandemics. This should be coupled with the provision of the needed logistics including testing kits and personal protective equipment (PPEs) in order to enable the health system to detect cases early and control the spread or outbreak of epidemics within the sub region.

Conclusions
Given the weak nature of Africa’s health financing and surveillance systems, it can be concluded that indeed the COVID-19 is a real test of Africa’s preparedness for pandemics. This pandemic has shown the shortcomings of Africa’s health system and the need to channel more financial and material resources to revamp and make the health system robust enough to stand the test of time. Hence, the paper concludes that health systems and health systems research should be given a dedicate budgetary allocation. Also, there is the need to train more health scientists in Africa in order to advance our health research and deepen our self-reliance.

References

  1. Chattu VK, Yaya S. Emerging infectious diseases and outbreaks: implications for women’s reproductive health and rights in resource-poor settings. 2020.
  2. Worldometer, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
  3. Calderon C, Kambou G, Zebaze Djiofack C, Korman V, Kubota M, Cantu Canales C. Africa's Pulse, No. 21, Spring 2020: An Analysis of Issues Shaping Africa’s Economic Future. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1596/978-1-4648-1568-3
  4. Walker PGT, Whittaker C, Watson O, et al. “The Global Impact of COVID-19 and Strategies for Mitigation and Suppression.” Imperial College London, 2020. doi: https://doi.org/10.25561/77735.
  5. Abbott SJ, Hellewell J, Munday CMMID, nCoV working group, Funk S. “The Transmissibility of Novel Coronavirus in the Early Stages of the 2019-20 Outbreak in Wuhan: Exploring Initial PointSource Exposure Sizes and Durations Using Scenario Analysis.” 2020.Wellcome Open Research. https://wellcomeopenresearch.org/articles/517 (accessed April 23, 2020).

Joshua Okyere
Joshua Okyere, © 2020

The author has 29 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: JoshuaOkyere

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