Africa: Act Now, COVID-19 Is Turning Its Fury On Developing Countries

Four months after it was first identified in December 2019 in China's Hubei Province, the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19 disease, has become a global pandemic.

Lately, the situation in China has shown a significant decrease in cases, but the devastation of the virus is spreading to other countries.

Some 205 countries have reported cases. Out of 1,141,425 cases, 841,722 people are infected, 61,205 have lost their lives, and, blissfully, 238,498 have recovered.

Up to this point, the pandemic is mainly ravaging developed countries such as China, the United States, United Kingdom, South Korea, Spain and Italy.

The United States of America has the highest tally: 279,500 cases, with 7,457 deaths, and 12,729 recoveries. Italy has recorded 119,827 cases with 14,681 deaths, and 19,758 recoveries.

These developed nations enjoy relative affluence, strong institutions, and political systems, and have fairly effective medical systems by global standards.

Theoretically, these wealthy nations are better equipped and have resources to enable them to cope with the disease and deal with its repercussions.

BLEAK FUTURE

Despite this, experts are warning that COVID-19 is progressively turning its fury on developing nations. Here, the numbers of confirmed cases have rapidly jumped from scores to hundreds, even thousands, of cases.

The first expert warning comes from two American experts, Robert Malley and Richard Malley, in a recent article - "When the Pandemic Hits the Most Vulnerable" - published in the influential Foreign Affairs Journal (March 31, 2020). "Developing countries are hurtling toward the coronavirus catastrophe," the two forewarn.

If anything close to what has hit the world's affluent nations were to afflict poorer or conflict-ridden ones, the effect could be dire.

The situation can become ugly in a scenario where a poor or conflict-ridden developing nation lacks test kits, facemasks, gloves, and ventilators, fails to bolster the capacity of its hospitals and intensive care units or its already stretched health system lacks capacity to trace, isolate, and quarantine affected cases, or its ordinary citizens fail to separate themselves from one another, and most businesses stay open.

Unfortunately, that dreadful moment is not too far off. In many developing countries, "such a scenario is not a matter of speculation. It's a likely future," the two authors caution.

In Africa, previously only remotely affected by the pandemic, Algeria is leading with 1,171 cases, 105 deaths and 62 recoveries.

STIMULUS PACKAGE

Egypt comes second with 985 cases, 66 deaths and 216 recoveries. In just a few days, Kenya's tally has shot from slightly over 20 confirmed cases to 126, with four deaths from the virus.

The second expert warning comes from an article by consulting firm McKinsey & Company titled: "Tackling COVID-19 in Africa", published on April 2020.

The article warns of the far-reaching economic ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is already disrupting millions of people's livelihoods, with disproportionate impact on poor households and small and informal businesses.

Developing countries need to come into full grasp of the economic impact of the virus. Africa's GDP growth in 2020 could be cut by three to eight percentage points.

Governments need to consider an extensive stimulus package to reverse the economic damage of the crisis.

The third expert warning comes from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in an article titled, "COVID-19: Looming crisis in developing countries threatens to devastate economies and ramp up inequality," published on March 30, 2020.

Like the McKinsey article, UNDP cautions centres on the social and economic impacts of the growing COVID-19 crisis, which threatens to disproportionately hit developing countries, throwing health systems into disarray.

EMERGENCY SUPPORT

This may be further exacerbated by a spike in cases, as up to 75 percent of people in the least developed countries lack access to soap and water.

The focus should be on helping countries to prepare for, respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNDP has unveiled its COVID-19 Rapid Response Facility to help countries strengthen their health systems, procure much-needed medical supplies, leverage digital technologies and ensure health workers are paid.

The fourth expert warning comes from the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in its recent report - "Economic Impact of the COVID-19 on Africa" - published on March 13, 2020.

As a result of the pandemic, UNECA warns that Africa's growth is expected to drop from 3.2 percent to 1.8 percent as a result of increased health spending to curtail the speed and reach of the virus.

Specialised agencies are devising frameworks of response to forestall the hurtling of developing countries towards a coronavirus catastrophe.

In a press release on April 2020, the World Bank Group unveiled its first operation for COVID-19 Emergency Health Support that seeks to strengthen the response of developing countries to the pandemic.

"We are working to strengthen developing nations' ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and shorten the time to economic and social recovery," the Bank announced.

JOINT STRATEGY

In Africa, hope now rests on the effective implementation of Africa's new anti-COVID-19 strategy.

Working jointly with the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa-CDC), the African Union has developed a new Africa Joint Continental Strategy for COVID-19 Outbreak.

The strategy provides a framework for Africa to coordinate efforts by member states, African Union agencies, World Health Organisation and other partners to ensure synergy, minimise duplication, and promote evidence-based public health practice for surveillance, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and control of COVID-19.

At all costs, Africa must avoid a scenario where the response to COVID-19 goes awry.

Professor Peter Kagwanja is chief executive at the Africa Policy Institute and former Government Adviser

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