AFRICA MUST COOPERATE TO DEFEAT THE CORONA VIRUS:
As of April 2020, the African continent is not as devasted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the same manner it was overwhelmed by other diseases such as EBOLA and HIV/AIDS. Despite this reality, the African continent retains one of the highest disease burdens in the world. The disease burden in the African continent is worsened by its lack of adequate healthcare systems, infrastructure and essential equipment. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Africa has been the largest beneficiary of aid from the developed world for as basic necessities as masks, which do not require a complicated industrial and manufacturing process to produce.
Despite Africa’s inadequate healthcare systems, infrastructure and equipment, it still has not been overwhelmed by the burden of COVID-19, largely due to the reality that the continent does not experience the intercontinental travel that defines the developed nations. The countries that are currently bedevilled by the COVID-19 in the continent, notably South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Ghana and Nigeria are those that have relatively larger interconnections with the rest of the world or are the nodal points for international travel. If all countries in the continent was integrated into the global economy in the same way other developed nations are, the COVID-19 pandemic in the continent would have killed millions of people in Africa.
The population density in most African cities, slums in urban and peri urban settlements in the African continent added with the lack of adequate healthcare systems, infrastructure and equipment would have certainly worsened the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the US, the most economically developed nation in the world, African Americans endure the most brutal face of COVID-19 because their existential reality is more or less similar to the conditions which Africans in the continent find themselves in. African Americans in the US are concentrated in urban and peri-urban slums with inadequate healthcare facilities and social distancing in their world is not as easy as it would be for the more affluent Caucasian communities who continue to benefit from the intergenerational privileges of slavery, colonialisation and racist capitalism.
On the 18th of April, New York Times reported that the African continent has 10 countries with not even a single ventilator, a respiratory medical equipment needed for when the severity of a respiratory illness such as COVID-19 limits the capacity of those infected to breath. The African countries that have ventilators cannot cater for even a fraction of their populations. For instance, the Democratic Republic of Congo only has 5 ventilators for a population exceeding 100 million, meaning that there is 1 ventilator for 20 million people. In Mali, which has only 3 ventilators, the ratio is 1 ventilator for 6 million people. In Madagascar which has only 6 ventilators, the ratio is 1 ventilator for 4 million people. In South Sudan, which has only 4 ventilators, the ratio is 1 ventilator for 2,6 million people. In Zimbabwe, which has 16 ventilators, the ratio is 1 ventilator for 1 million people. These ratios are definitive of the entire African continent, which has the most devastating disease burdens in the world of illnesses which can cause higher death rates if COVID-19 permeates the continent in the same rates and intensity it is doing in the United States.
Despite these realities, almost all African countries have placed measures to contain the rapid spread of the virus. Majority of African States have imposed lockdowns and are promoting hygienic standards that will limit the spread of the virus. This happens despite the reality that in many urban and peri-urban spaces, social distancing, which is one of the pillars in the fight against COVID-19 is practically impossible due to population density. Furthermore, the subsistence traders, entrepreneurs who benefits from tourism in urban areas are deprived of their income and therefore condemned to poverty and starvation due to the COVID-19 containment lockdowns.
There are however positive aspects that can be derived from the reality of COVID-19 pandemic. Senegal for instance has been able to introduce a cheaper but effective medical respiratory equipment, a ventilator which costs less than 10% of the typical ventilators needed in the fight against COVID-19. Whilst not proven through reliable universal scientific systems, Madagascar has announced an immune system boosting herbal medication that prevents death of those infected by COVID-19. In South Africa, two black South African entrepreneurs have speeded up the coronavirus testing procedure significantly. It usually takes up to three hours to obtain test results, but their test kit has reduced it to 65 minutes. In isolationist fashion, different countries are engaged in national efforts to arrest the rapid spread of the virus.
All these efforts are not given immediate global recognition because they are produced by black people, who are considered a lesser race in racist global political, social and economic establishment. The world does not give due recognition to the African continent, so the African continent should give due recognition to itself. While appreciating and acknowledging superior solutions from all parts of the world, including development of vaccines, the African continent should seriously and more cogently coordinate its response to COVID-19. The coordination should necessarily include the elevation of nationally developed solutions into regional and continental solutions.
The African continent should share scientifically proven practices and experiences and must help lesser capable nations in the fight against COVID-19. Through this, a permanent solution for COVID-19 might come from the continent, which has the practical experiences of containment of Malaria and EBOLA and many other diseases. The form of a continental response to the COVID-19 response can take regional and neighbourly cooperation and thereafter coordinated at a continental level. It will be epidemiologically foolish and unsustainable to contain the pandemic in South Africa whilst it is prevalent in Lesotho which is wholly within South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Malawi. A portion of each country’s resources, inclusive of financial, human, healthcare and systematic resources should be dedicated to a regional and continental coordinated effort in the war against COVID-19.
In the immediate, the continent must assemble its resources to build adequate industrial and manufacturing capacity to produce all the healthcare essentials such as masks, ventilators and even pharmaceutical products that have helped those who recovered to recover. An isolationist response to COVID-19 is not only reactionary, it is dangerous and will condemn the African continent into the inhumanity that defined the warring opponents in the 1st world war who ignored the influenza pandemic and therefore losing between 50 and 100 million lives of people. The African continent must develop a common response to the disease.
Floyd Shivambu is EFF Deputy President.