Lessons Other Countries Can Learn From Africa’s Response To Covid-19

Africa’s response to coronavirus has been remarkable. This Friday, South Africa will begin to ease its lockdown, among the most stringent in the world, after signs that early and decisive action has flattened the curve of new infections. Ghana and Kenya, two other countries that imposed a mix of social distancing, travel restrictions, mask-wearing and curfews, are also inching back towards some kind of normality.

Days after the US President Donald Trump suggested using disinfectant to combat the COVID-19 or coronavirus pandemic, Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina has recommended herbal tea to cure the infected patients.

Rajoelina encouraged the people to believe in the country’s ability. He said all proceeds accrued from the herbal tea will be diverted to the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research (MIAR).

”All trials and tests have been conducted and its effectiveness has been provided in reducing and elimination of symptoms from COVID-19 patients in Madagascar,” Africanews quoted the president as saying.

Senegal has adopted a novel approach to the fight against coronavirus by testing every citizen of the country either they show symptoms of the deadly disease or not.

Senegalese scientists have developed a COVID-19 testing kit that costs $1 and a ventilator which costs $60. The kit can deliver results in about 10 minutes and can be used at home like a pregnancy test kit.

With a population of over 16 million people, and only 50 ventilators nationwide, Senegalese engineers have also developed 3D printing ventilators for $60 as opposed to the $16,000 imported ventilators available worldwid.

Senegal has one of the highest coronavirus recovery rates in the world. It has the largest recovery in Africa and the third in the world.

In spite of budgetary constraints, policy has been well co-ordinated and, so far at least, surprisingly effective. According to official figures, which may admittedly greatly underestimate the true picture, about 35,000 people have been infected, with 1,540 deaths. It could be that Africa is only at the start of a pandemic that turns very much nastier. It is also plausible that certain factors, including the youthful population, could reduce fatalities. Yet Africa, drawing on the muscle memory of previous epidemics, has mounted a response from which others can learn.

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which came into being in 2017, has been instrumental. Run by the cool-headed John Nkengasong, a Cameroon-born virologist and HIV specialist, it stitched together a co-ordinated strategy through videoconferences with heads of state. Leaders were quick to take scientific advice on frontier closures, screening and lockdowns. The Africa CDC will now help pull together a continent-wide effort to test, trace and treat involving a million-strong army of health workers.

African Countries had little choice but to act early. Nigeria was already screening airport passengers in February. Rwanda closed its frontiers on March 19. South Africa locked down before it had suffered a single death. In the absence of money, ingenuity rushed in: solar-powered oxygen units in Uganda, rapid tests in Senegal, mask-making textile factories in Kenya.

Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, a professor of economics at Yale University, also agree that other countries can learn lessons. He highlights Sierra Leone, which has marshalled Mammy Queens (female leaders), religious figures, radio jingles and boom-box-carrying “town criers” to disseminate health messages. Such strategies, he adds, could be employed in relatively richer countries such as Bangladesh.

A lot boils down to trust, he says. Quite rationally, many Africans have scant faith in governments and elites that too often have wielded power to enrich themselves. The response to Covid-19 is a glimpse — no more than that — of how things could be different.

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