Africa’s prompt COVID-19 response may have contributed to lower cases and deaths across the continent, according to a fresh study published by the BMJ, a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal published by the trade union the British Medical Association (BMA). But questions have been raised about such bold claims, especially because many people in Africa could not afford to social distance. Many countries could not also provide face masks to all their citizens or enforce strict lockdowns for a long time because of economic circumstances. In addition, barely 20 percent of Africans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Africa CDC.
With no clear scientific explanations, many researchers have struggled to understand why a continent with no vaccines or strong health infrastructure has seen fewer COVID-19 cases and deaths while the most advanced places in the world have witnessed horrendous losses.
The conclusions of the study were based on intra-action review (IAR) reports of the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa.
The findings from national IAR reports submitted by March 2021 of 18 African countries suggest they were “prompt and may have contributed to the lower cases and deaths in the region compared with countries in other regions,” according to BMJ.
The study relied on 10 preparedness and response domains, being governance, leadership, and coordination; planning and monitoring; risk communication and community engagement; surveillance, rapid response, and case investigation; infection prevention and control; case management; screening and monitoring at points of entry; national laboratory system; logistics and supply chain management; and maintaining essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Africa, a region experienced in dealing with constant outbreaks, relied on existing programs and protocols including laboratory systems, surveillance systems used for previous outbreaks of infectious diseases and a logistics management information system.
“These best practices were backed by strong political will,” they found.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 an official pandemic on March 11, 2020, African initiated responses in January of that year.
“African countries started implementing enhanced surveillance at [Points of Entry] PoEs, screening all passengers for a recent history of travel to China and screening for fever,” according to the analysis.
Africa’s swift responses sprouted from China’s deepening roots in the region.
According to the Central African Research Institute, China owns about 625,000 acres of land in various African nations. China is a leading bilateral lender in 32 African countries and the top lender for the continent.
China has funded and developed numerous projects as part of the 2035 Vision for China-Africa Cooperation, meaning Chinese travel to Africa put the continent at risk as the pandemic began.
Though the region is experienced in outbreaks, the report revealed challenges and areas requiring immediate attention to prevent further waves.
According to the reports’ analysis describe the leading challenges as “low public confidence in governments, inadequate adherence to infection prevention and control measures, shortages of personal protective equipment, inadequate laboratory capacity, inadequate contact tracing, poor supply chain and logistics management systems, and lack of training of key personnel at national and subnational levels.”
The study’s discussion encourages African countries to use lessons learnt from the pandemic to develop robust and resilient health systems that can provide essential services in future emergency situations as well as improving logistics and supply chain issues.