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Analysis: How Africa is handling the pandemic

While the majority of African countries have imposed restrictions to stem the tide of the coronavirus, some states opted for unorthodox treatments

Haitham Nouri , Thursday 21 May 2020
How Africa  is handling the pandemic
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African countries have adopted different measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The majority of the continent’s countries have enforced traditional measures, such as the closure of schools, imposing curfews and banning religious, sports and social gatherings.

A few African countries have announced there are medications to treat Covid-19, all of which need to be verified scientifically.

The majority of Africa is heading towards easing restrictions due to the harsh impact they have left on the poor that make up more than a third of the population of the continent.

However, all countries have ordered schools remain closed. Thirteen African states had even closed their educational establishments before their first confirmed coronavirus cases were recorded.

In Nigeria, international and domestic flights are still halted and so is transportation between cities. The capital Abuja and Lagos are quarantined, but more recently have allowed the partial opening of shops and delivery services.

South Africa has recorded the highest infections. Schools and universities remain closed and the movement of the labour force is restricted. Gatherings, save for funerals, are banned.

Zimbabwe remains under complete lockdown, although the country is registering lower numbers of infections. Kenya is still enforcing strict measures, banning gatherings, closing schools and universities, with a curfew in place and an obligation for the public to wear face masks.

Meanwhile, Ghana has replaced restrictions with simple tests for the virus, according to government statements, and Rwanda resumed its economic activities. Nonetheless, movement from and into the capital Kigali remains restricted and churches are closed.

Institutions in Botswana are working at 25 per cent capacity while maintaining social distancing.

Ethiopia’s economy has grown by 10 per cent from 2003 to 2015, according to Addis Ababa statistics. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, in an article published in the UK’s Financial Times, has called on global powers to scrap the debts of African countries to help them overcome the repercussions of Covid-19.

A World Bank report issued in April pointed out that Africa is about to witness its first recession in 25 years after a number of its countries recorded the highest global growth rates.

The report stated that the continent’s economy may shrink by 5.1 per cent in 2020 due to the coronavirus and countries south of the Sahara are going to need over $100 billion to make up for their losses.

According to Albert Zeufack, the World Bank’s chief economist for Africa, the continent’s debts, estimated at $44 billion, have to be scraped for Africa to recover from the repercussions of the coronavirus.

The African Union, meanwhile, announced that 20 million jobs in the continent have become threatened owing to the pandemic, and the union of Africa’s international airlines has reported that the losses African airline companies have incurred will not be compensated before 2024.

While countries depending on revenues from importing oil and minerals, such as Nigeria, South Africa and Angola, will be hard hit due to the crisis, Africa as a whole will suffer from a shortage in food security because of the reduction in agricultural produce and import challenges.

The sufferings of Africa’s illegal immigrants have doubled after world countries shut down on themselves. In Libya, hundreds of African immigrants are suffering as a result of the conflict in the oil-rich Mediterranean country and their inability to return home after their countries closed their land, sea and airports as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Madagascar, Tanzania and other African states are adopting unorthodox methods. Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina unveiled a tonic extracted from the wormwood plant — from which are extracted the effective substances to treat malaria — called “Covid-Organics”.

The announcement didn’t veer off the US president’s announcement of Chloroquine, a drug to treat malaria, as a medicine to fight coronavirus.

The medicine Rajoelina announced wasn’t clinically tested, but his aide said it was used on 20 people for no more than three weeks.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned against using drugs that haven’t been clinically tested, while the African Union said it wanted to see the scientific data on the “safety and efficacy” of Covid-Organics.

Rajoelina said criticism of the untested herbal tonic shows the West’s condescending attitude towards Africa. “If it was a European country that had actually discovered this remedy, would there be so much doubt? I don’t think so,” he said.

Tanzania and the Republic of the Congo said they are going to import the herbal tonic from Madagascar, and the BBC reported that Liberia, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Nigeria have already purchased Covid-Organics.

In light of this, the WHO office in Africa tweeted that 70 African traditional medicine experts met via videoconferencing to announce that the scientific rules for clinical trials should be followed throughout the continent without exception.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli sacked the deputy to the health minister after the latter criticised the use of steam therapy to prevent or cure the virus. This is the fifth high-ranking public health official in the East African nation to be removed from his position over the past month.

Tanzania stopped reporting on the pandemic since the end of April and Magufuli has lifted the majority of restrictions.

In return, Kenya and Zambia said they were closing their borders with Tanzania, while the US warned against the quick spread of the pandemic in the African country.

 

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 May, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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