The spread of COVID-19 is accelerating across the world. In Africa, most countries have now confirmed cases and the number of fatalities is rising. If allowed to spread unmanaged, the impact on African citizens and economies will be substantial.
In a recently published paper – COVID-19 in Africa: A call for coordinated governance, improved health structures and better data – the Foundation analyses Africa’s readiness and capacity to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. It draws on a wealth of data, statistics and information from the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) and other sources to examine the current COVID-19 context and its immediate challenges. In providing this analysis, we aim to present a clear and accurate picture, highlighting where efforts can be concentrated in the management and mitigation of this health crisis on the continent.
At the time of publication (30 March 2020), cases in Africa remain low compared to other regions. According to the data available, this can be attributed to both the average age of African citizens, which is the lowest globally, and factors relating to the continent’s climate – although this has been recently challenged by some experts.
However, Africa may yet be worst hit by this invisible disease. Africa’s already fragile health systems, coupled with a high burden of respiratory and diabetic diseases and densely packed urban agglomerations, are likely to increase the vulnerability of the continent and the lethality of the virus. According to Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization (WHO), Africa should "wake up" to the COVID-19 threat and prepare for a worst-case scenario.
The speed with which countries can detect, report and respond to outbreaks can be a reflection of their wider institutional capacity. Epidemics are a reality test for public governance and leadership, not only at country level, but also at regional and continental levels, as well as in connection with the wider network of multilateral actors and partners.
Home to over a billion people, public health systems across the continent will quickly be overwhelmed if the virus takes hold. The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call for improving Africa’s still weak health structures and related institutional capacity, such as education, infrastructure or national security. It also highlights the urgent need to strengthen data and statistical capacity, notably in relation to health and civil registration.
This paper focuses on the current health landscape and related challenges, while considering the road ahead. COVID-19’s global outreach will have a huge economic and wider impact on the entire African continent. Occurring later, it will isolate Africa from recovering other regions. On the continent, the pandemic will widen inequalities within and between countries, worsen already existing fragilities, restrict employment and investment prospects, and potentially fuel additional domestic unrest and conflicts. This requires immediate attention, and calls for adequate, coordinated responses.