Africa must prepare for the worst, according to the WHO and the UN.
While Africa remains to date the continent least affected by the Coronavirus epidemic, unlike Europe, which totals nearly 44,000 deaths out of the approximately 600,000 recorded worldwide, the World Health Organization has warned that it should prepare for the worst. Holding a virtual press conference on 18 March, WHO boss Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia suggested that official figures referring to the number of cases in Africa may be far from reality, as many cases are still unreported or undetected. The former Ethiopian health minister called “his continent” Africa “to wake up” and said the next few days look bad.
The same speech was made by Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Africa director, who said on March 27 on the French television channel France 24 that the situation in Africa is “very worrying” with a “very rapid” progression of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Botswana public health specialist was particularly concerned that in two weeks Africa has gone from about 50 cases detected per day to 300. WHO Deputy Director-General Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, on his part, based his concerns on the health systems in Africa, which he said would not be able to cope with sustained community transmission.
Both the UN and WHO remain pessimistic about the future of Africa. Interviewed by RFI and France 24 on the continent’s situation in the fight against Covid-19, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also expressed his fears that the spread of the coronavirus in Africa could lead to millions of deaths and infected people. He said an investment of $3 trillion is needed to halt the spread of the epidemic on the continent. In addition to coordinated international action, Guterres also called for an end to conflicts around the world.
For Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, the greatest enemy in the fight against Covid-19 in Africa could be the incivility of populations characterized by the failure to comply with containment measures, barrier gestures and hygiene recommendations prescribed by governments. This view is shared by Cameroonian political critic Claude Wilfried Ekanga, who in a publication on his Facebook page in March described the carelessness of Cameroonians when the first cases were just detected in the country.
“This time, the conclusion is clear and definitive: as long as there are no mass deaths, the Cameroonian will not understand. You have no running water to wash your hands, no formal savings to stop your activities in case of total confinement. You don’t have hospitals and health workers to deal with any possible contamination, let alone money to provide masks for everyone… It’s unbelievable. I’ve never seen people so irresponsible about their own survival. You still don’t realize that apart from prevention, you can’t do anything about the virus. Nothing!”
African governments in action
The pessimistic forecasts of the WHO and the UN have not fallen on deaf ears. African leaders, who have taken note of the danger posed by the coronavirus now gaining ground on African soil, have for the most part adopted measures ranging from sending foreign tourists home to quarantining travelers from countries affected by the Covid-19 epidemic. In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta has even advised the population to give preference to electronic money for all forms of financial transactions.
South Africa, with nearly 1300 cases detected, is one country on the continent to have adopted the total containment measure for a period of three weeks together with Zimbabwe and Rwanda which effected its lock down on the 30th of March. To ensure that it is respected, President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on the army, saying in a speech to his troops, to go to war against the invisible enemy. The image of Ramaphosa addressing the military in fatigues on the mission that is theirs was widely disseminated and commented on the web. It demonstrates the seriousness with which the South African authorities are approaching this new pandemic in a country that remains the most affected in the world by HIV-AIDS. In Morocco, King Mohammed VI has also called on the expertise of the military, particularly the medical corps, who are called upon to take part jointly with civilian doctors in the delicate mission of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
Measures that require accompaniment
Despite the containment measures taken by governments in Africa, many people argue that they should be followed by means of accompaniment at the risk of exposing poor populations to famine. The Cameroonian writer Calixte Beyala is one such person. “In Cameroon, people live from day to day earnings; few families can afford the luxury of total confinement, without running the risk of starvation! If the poorest people are forced into confinement, they will die of hunger, or else the weakening of their organism due to lack of food will make them the first victims of the Coronavirus! These casual announcements caused the prices of basic necessities to skyrocket on the markets, resulting in real hardship!” She wrote on her Facebook page.
Mobilization of funds and government aid measures
During this time of a global health crisis, Africa does not want to depend entirely on international aid. Thus, across the continent, many fundraising funds and national solidarity chains have been created. The business community and individuals are being called upon to make donations that will be used in the fight against this new coronavirus. In Nigeria, the collective of businessmen united around the billionaire Aliko Dangote is a perfect example of solidarity. The Coalition Against Coronavirus – CACOVID, created by Africa’s biggest fortune in partnership with the country’s central bank, has already raised more than 64 million dollars dedicated to the government for its response plan against the Covid-19 epidemic.
China is also at the bedside of Africa, which over the last two decades has become its largest trading partner. True to its policy of aid to the continent, Beijing is multiplying donations of medical equipment through the billionaire Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba.com, specialized in online sales around the world. The kingdom of the south, has managed to get 5.4 million masks, 40,000 protective suits, 1.08 million diagnostic test kits to 55 African countries via Ethiopian Airlines.
In Ghana, where a National Fund dedicated to the fight against Covid-19 has also been established, ministers of state and other senior officials working in the presidency have decided to donate half of their salaries for the next three months (April, May and June) to fight the coronavirus.
In Côte D’Ivoire, the government has announced as support measures for the population and businesses, the creation of a solidarity fund of 170 billion CFA francs, the postponement of payment of electricity and water bills, from April to July 2020, and from May to August 2020 for all subscribers, the suspension of tax inspections for three months and the postponement of three months of payment of a flat-rate taxes for small traders and craftsmen among others.
There is also a surge of generosity in the world of sports where many top African athletes have put their hands in their pockets to support their countries. Among them, the Senegalese Sadio Mané who has donated 30 million FCFA (about 45,000 euros) to the health authorities of his country, the Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto’o, who also showed his support through a package of 100 million FCFA for Cameroon. In Algeria, footballer Ryad Boudebouz made a gesture in favour of a hospital in Colmar, a city hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Traditional African medicine put to the test by Covid-19
With the rapid spread of the Covid-19 epidemic on the continent, traditional medicine is under severe strain. While the Ministry of Health in Cameroon has announced that treating a patient with Covid-19 costs about 300,000 FCFA per day, or 460 Euros, many Cameroonians wonder whether the government will be able to bear the burden of all those infected with the virus in view of the ever-increasing number of infected cases. As a precautionary measure, many Cameroonians hope to find in traditional medicine the miracle recipe to overcome the disease that has brought the world’s great powers with their efficient health systems to their knees. African naturopaths, who pride themselves in using plants to treat even the most complex pathologies such as sickle-cell anemia, spleen and epilepsy, are being called upon by the population in the face of the threat posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
If China has taken advantage of the crisis caused by the coronavirus to promote its traditional medicine through the use of certain plants in its pharmacopoeia, Africa is also called upon to do the same. While 90% of coronavirus patients in China combined traditional and modern medicine, doctors at the Shanghai Public Health Clinic admit that the use of both types of treatment has produced satisfactory results.
WHO remains convinced that the use of traditional herbal medicines is not effective against Covid-19″, but in these times of crisis, traditional medicine remains a treasure to be exploited until a vaccine becomes available. Despite the skepticism of the scientific community about the effectiveness of traditional medicine in treating Covid-19, African naturopaths should follow the lead of their Chinese counterparts who were active in the fight against this pandemic by offering treatments to patients that ultimately proved to be effective.
Despite its failing health system, Africa, like the other continents, has become aware of the danger that the novel coronavirus poses to its populations. By all means, Africa, which has suffered in previous years from other epidemics and diseases that have decimated its populations, wants to learn from its past mistakes. Will it avoid the carnage predicted for it? Only time will tell!
Article from AFRIC Editorial
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