The African continent, which has one of the lowest deaths and contamination rates due to coronavirus, is questioning about its resilience. Announced at the beginning of the crisis as a “catastrophe” that would cause the death of millions of people in Africa, the Covid-19 epidemic seems to have spared the continent, as few Africans have developed serious forms of the disease. How to explain the “African exception” regarding the pandemic?
African resilience tested by the crisis
Currently, all African countries have counted nearly 53,000 victims since March 2020. In comparison, France counts more than 55,000. Several hypotheses are put forward to explain that Africa, which has 17% of the world's population, has only 4% of cases of contamination : the African population is the youngest in the world, with a median age twice as low as in Europe (19.7 years compared to 42.5 years), many young people would also have been asymptomatic ; the population is predominantly rural and lives more outdoors ; the continent's low level of integration into the global economy has limited the circulation of the virus ; a certain immunity and a better resistance, developed following the regular epidemics affecting the continent (a “genetic memory”) ; a know-how in managing the epidemic with obvious technical efficiency ; the warm climate (severely affected countries saw their contamination peak in winter or when temperatures dropped) ; the “pessimistic hypothesis”, NGOs prepared themselves “for the worst” from March in Africa, anticipating the needs.
There would thus be not only one factor that could explain the African situation but a set of inherent factors. Although there is a possibility that the number of cases is underestimated (fewer tests and therefore less data), few Africans have been hospitalized for Covid-19 and there has been no excess mortality since the beginning of the year. The epidemic even seems to be under control in some countries, where hospitals are not full and the intensive care units are not saturated or even almost empty. However, there is a very large difference within the countries in the spread of the virus : more than 80% of cases are found in just a few countries. For instance, South Africa has reported half of the cases on the continent and fears a resurgence of Covid-19.
e-Health, a major advantage in the fight against coronavirus
Africa, which lacks health infrastructure and healthcare personnel, is not lacking in innovation, especially in the digital sector. Developed since several years, e-health has proved to be highly useful in the prevention and fight against the virus : installation of Covid-19 telemedicine centers, learning and awareness platforms, connected detection and testing, applications and information collection systems, and many others.
E-health seems to be an integral part of the Covid-19 control plan and has thus enabled the acceleration of the use of digital technologies to meet the medical needs of African populations. As shown, for example, by the second edition of the Digital Forum, which was held on November 26th and 27th in Senegal. This year’s theme was “Digital for the management of the Covid-19 pandemic and the revival of the economy”. Dematerialization of public services, collaboration between public entities and the private sector and digital development of territories, have animated the discussions.
New health needs and vaccine challenges
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, Africa was already putting in place mechanisms to improve its health systems : active leadership, government commitments, strong and comprehensive national coordination plans, new systems, etc. The African health system is now in a state of flux. Thus, in several African countries, health policies are flourishing and offer employment opportunities in the health sector, amplified by the virus. Some countries are even becoming “health hubs” such as Senegal, Botswana, South Africa and Morocco, where true digital hubs are multiplying and are using African technology for the health sector.
The continent must now prepare for the Covid-19 vaccination and set up effective and rapid vaccination campaigns, despite financial, logistical and cultural difficulties. The WHO warns about this campaign, considered as the largest ever conducted on the continent and considers that Africa is far from being ready. However, data on the state of preparedness on the continent show that half of the countries have identified priority populations for immunization and have plans in place to reach them, but only about a quarter of the countries on the continent have adequate plans for resources and financing. Vaccine deployment to high-priority people is already estimated at $5.7 billion USD, with additional costs of 15 percent to 20 percent for injection equipment and vaccine delivery. According to projections, Africa will have to wait until at least the second quarter of 2021 to actively launch its immunization campaigns.
Rania Khedhir, Life Sciences Consultant at Morgan Philips Executive Search Middle East & Africa
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