Different Reactions to COVID19 Across Africa

May 9th, 2020

In South Africa, Shabir Madhi, a director at the South African Medical Research Council and professor of vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand, said the the virus could be with us for a few years. “ We must be clear. This is not a three to six-month project. This is not the 2020 phenomenon. This pandemic will be with us until the end of 2022 at the earliest. One wave of the virus will be followed with another and it will take that long for a herd immunity to develop.” She then mentions the hope that a vaccine could be ready by September this year. “These important strides could decide how long we have to live under such conditions.”

How does she know this to be the case? Most corona viruses come and then disappear within one season. There is no way to know how long it will last and how can she be sure a vaccine will be developed so quickly and that it will be effective. Are these expert opinions just projections and not based on any real scientific principles?

  • The government in Malawi has been prohibited for the 2nd week running from imposing a national lockdown after being petitioned by various groups of citizens. The latest decision came after religious groups said a lockdown would be a violation of their religious freedoms. Malawi’s High Court referred the decision to the Constitutional Court which is now going to make a ruling on several constitutional questions that have arisen during the pandemic. So far, Malawi has had 41 cases and  3 deaths attributed to COVID19.

The government wants to lockdown the population in one of the world’s poorest countries, where the margins for survival are very fine, when there have been only 3 deaths in a country of around 23 million souls. How many would die if the country is allowed to lockdown its citizens? Expert predictions are that it would be many more.

  • In the kingdom of Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, with a population of 1.1 million, there are 116 cases, and one death, a 59-year old diabetic. Over 65 cases are at home, 49 admitted to hospital, but no other fatalities. The country is in partial lockdown. Masks need to be worn in all shops, but also in the street if seen by policemen. Eswatini is generally a very calm and peaceful place, in contrast to neighbouring South Africa. Yet, even here, compulsory mask wearing, restrictions on movement, closing of all non-essential goods, including alcohol shops (they kept changing their minds on that one, but have followed in South Africa’s footsteps again), and attempting to enforce a stay at home policy, with written permission needed to move around have made life difficult. The country is in the process of importing 56 ventilators, 60,000 masks and scanners from Taiwan. Eswatini is one of the only countries to formally recognize Taiwan.

With only one death, a person with a co-morbidity of diabetes, a known factor in COVID19, the country has still felt impelled to enforce a partial lockdown. The borders to neighbouring South Africa and Mozambique remain closed. Public transportation is minimal, and many people are already suffering economic hardship. Eswatini relies on South Africa for much of its food imports. An extended lockdown in either country could have profound impact on the population.

  • Neighbouring Mozambique has an estimated 80 cases and no deaths. However, according to Africa news, there are currently only 17 cases in the country, 7 from local transmissions and 8 from imported sources. With a population of around 30 million, it is not highly populated, but it remain a particularly poor country, partly due to the extended civil war that lasted over 20 years. The Ministry of Health has enforced the following rules:
  • Submit to mandatory quarantine all people who have recently traveled overseas, for those arriving in Mozambique and for all people who have had direct contact with positive cases of COVID19;
  • Prohibit the holding of public and private events, such as religious, cultural or recreational activities, sportive, political, associative or touristic activities amongst other. Exception will be granted for urgent State matters or social issues;
  • Limit the internal movement of people across the national territory;
  • Limit the entry of people at land borders, airports and ports, except for reasons of interest to the State, transport of goods and assets by duly accredited operators and health-related situations;
  • Close down leisure commercial establishments or similar ones, or, when applicable, reduce their activity during the day;
  • Introduce job rotation or other work modalities depending on the specificities of the public and private sector; and
  • Ensure the implementation of prevention measures established by the Ministry of Health in all public and private institutions.

Therefore, in a country with only an apparent 17 active cases, there are still some forms of partial lockdown in place. However, as with many African countries, outside the main cities, life carries on as normal. People don’t have the time or the option to stay in their homes.

  • Nigeria has the highest population of any country in Africa, with an estimated 205 million people. 52% of the country is in urban areas. The median age is 18.1 years. Life expectancy is 56 years, with an infant mortality rate of 54.7 deaths per 1,000 births. Deaths under 5 years are at 90.2 out of 1,000. Lagos is its largest city, with a population of 21 million in the metropolitan area. It is also the 13th largest oil producer in the world. It currently has 2,802 cases and 93 fatalities. Given Nigeria’s population, that makes it one death for every 2,204,301 people. The country has asked the International Monetary Fund for a loan of 3.4 billion dollars. The country is beginning to ease its lockdown of the last six weeks. President Buhari has waived all import duties on medical supplies. According to Africa News – “Some key guidelines issued with respect to public places include: Mandatory wearing of face masks, adherence to temperature checks, strict handwashing and use of sanitizers, observance of physical distancing and a ban on public gathering. Passenger flights remain prohibited, as are interstate travel, governors last month agreed on the latter. Neighbourhood markets are to open thrice a week between 8 am and 3 pm.”

Given the high population, urban density and having the largest city in the continent, 93 fatalities is remarkably few. Even without having extensive testing facilities, if COVID19 had really affected the country, the hospitals in major urban areas would easily be overrun. However, that hasn’t happened so far. Any increase in total numbers because of increased testing will only have relevance if more serious cases are seen, not just in the number of positive tests. Given the very young average age in Nigeria, it is likely that many have already been exposed to the virus without knowing it. That brings into question the lockdown strategy imposed on the country and the impact it is having on millions living in the large urban areas.

  • In the whole of Africa, the most cases have been seen in the following countries:

South Africa = 5,951: Egypt = 5,895: Morocco = 4,569: Algeria = 4,154: Nigeria = 2,170. The African Union (AU) is in talks with Madagascar over its herbal treatment for COVID19 called Covid-Organics. AU said it was in contact with Madagascar “through its embassy in Addis Ababa, with a view to obtaining technical data regarding the safety and efficiency of a herbal remedy, recently announced by Madagascar for the reported prevention and treatment of COVID19.” Half a dozen African countries have expressed an interest in it.

The culture of using traditional herbal medicines is strong in most of Africa. It makes sense to look for a natural cure for COVID19, given that stimulating a healthy immune reaction is the best way to treat infections, as well as to have preventative effect. There are already many well-known herbal treatments to treat all kinds of infectious diseases found in Africa.



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