At the beginning of the CoVID-19 pandemic, as cases of infections rose across Asia, Europe and North America, fears quickly rose that the new virus could easily overwhelm fragile health systems across Africa.
Months later and many African countries are being applauded for having waged effective campaigns against the spread with reported cases substantially lower than elsewhere on the planet. As of writing, official reports indicate just over 1.6m cases compared to 18.3m in the Americas, 12.1m in Asia and 6.5m in Europe.
In a letter to the Financial Times, Ken Ofori-Atta, Ghana’s minister for finance, attributes this to the continent’s “youthful population, the natural social distancing of outdoor living and experience with infectious disease management — helped by good leadership.” This could certainly be the case, with CoVID-19 known to have a higher mortality rate amongst older age groups, and disproportionally affecting people with pre-existing health conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, that are less common in many African nations.
Attention is now also focused on economic survival with the outlook for many African economies far from healthy. Zambia, for a start, is likely to soon head into pandemic-related debt default.
Although the World Health Organization (WHO) has said the CoVID-19 outbreak in Africa may have passed its peak, it is also warning governments not to be complacent as countries relax their restrictions.
But Africa has recent, deep experience in managing highly contagious infections. Trauma from regional outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola is likely still fresh and has an important role to play here.
In September, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) in partnership with Public Health England (PHE) launched AVoHC Net – a web tool to rapidly deploy and better administrate standby workforces for public health emergencies across the continent. Set up as a response to Ebola, the force of 800 experts is now also being used on the frontline against CoVID-19.
It is encouraging to see the incredible power that an effective, speedy response to infectious disease can have in alleviating potential disaster related to the pandemic. However, as we always say, protecting and shielding front-liners is a critical aspect of reducing transmission rates and improving patient outcomes. Along with other innovations in CoVID-19 treatment since the pandemic first took hold the use of physical barriers, such as the AerosolShield, could help make newly deployed health workers even more effective than they currently are.
Of course, African countries have a unique set of circumstances that also differ hugely across the continent. As we are seeing increasingly across Europe and the United States, a second wave is entirely possible. It is something African leaders are no doubt mindful of. So now, more than ever, it is important to keep our shields up in the fight against new infections.
For more information on the African Union’s response to CoVID-19, visit the Africa CDC Dashboard.
Photo by Brandi Ibrao on Unsplash