The jury is still out as to whether the African states will be successful in containing the COVID- 19 pandemic.
By Ruchita Beri
In his Africa Day message, observed each year on May 25, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres’, lauded the African countries for their swift and coordinated response to the pandemic.COVID-19 pandemic has so far infected over 100,000 people in Africa. Compared to 1,667, 000 cases in the United States and 300,000 in Brazil these numbers are quite low.
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The low COVID-19 infections in Africa could be linked to the region’s long history in dealing with infectious diseases. The continent has been afflicted with viruses, such as HIV- AIDs and Ebola in past. The protocols and measures set while dealing with these diseases have prepared a large number of countries in the continent to mount an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 2014 Ebola crisis, in particular, made African countries aware that screening, surveillance and cross border collaboration were key to combat the spread of the pandemic. As other countries across the world dabbled with herd immunity, African states were busy implementing strict lockdowns, training their health workers, speeding up research and innovation.
As coronavirus spreads across the continent, African scientists, researchers and governments have come up with several innovations to deal with the pandemic. In Senegal, a research organisation has developed a $1 COVID-19 home diagnostic kit. The Rwandan government deployed portable washbasins at bus stops to ensure passengers wash their hands. In Uganda, Makerere University has developed a low-cost ventilator to help infected patients. The Kwame Nkrumah University in Ghana has developed Rapid Diagnostic tests (RDT) for COVID-19. Tunisian scientists have used artificial intelligence technology to develop a scanning tool that evaluates the lung x-ray images to ascertain if a patient has the dreaded disease. While a WhatsApp platform created by a South African firm has been adopted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to provide information alerts on coronavirus outbreak.
More importantly, the African Union (AU) launched a vigorous response at the outset of the pandemic in the continent. In February 2020, the organisation decided to develop out a joint continental strategy to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. This strategy hinges on the principles of cooperation, collaboration, coordination and communication between the 54 member states. The main objectives were to limit transmission of the disease in the continent and minimize the social and economic impact of the pandemic. The Africa Task Force for Coronavirus and the Africa Centres for Disease Control (CDC) have been the main pillars to implement this strategy. The Africa CDC has provided training to representatives of several African countries in infection prevention and control. The AU also appointed five special envoys, one from each region, to mobilise international support for Africa’s fight against the virus.
Most of the African countries, including South Africa, that is the current Chair of the AU, have evolved a robust response to deal with to crisis. They have developed national strategies under the guidance of Africa CDC to combat the disease. And also evolved countermeasures, prepared the health infrastructures in their respective countries. However, there are some exceptions, like Tanzania where the leadership has rejected health experts call for restrictive measures and taken shelter of religion to deal with the pandemic. Similarly in Madagascar, President Andry Rajoelina has urged the citizens to drink COVID Organics (CVO), an organic herbal beverage to prevent the virus.
The jury is still out as to whether the African states will be successful in containing the COVID- 19 pandemic. However, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission opines that the pandemic will “serve as a hymn, an anthem for multilateralism and solidarity”. It is hoped that the unity and cooperation amongst the African countries in the fight against this deadly virus prove him right.
(The author is Senior Research Associate and Coordinator, Africa, LAC, UN Centre at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.)