While other continents are overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 deaths and increasing new cases, Africa seems to have a better experience. However, in the continent, the struggle against COVID-19 has not been a smooth one, and for many reasons. According to Africa’s CDC, there has been a 10% fall in the number of reported new cases in the continent. But there is more to do and John Nkemasong of the CDC warns that Africa is yet to get over the first wave of the disease. The question naturally arises; what challenges stand in the way of fighting the Corona Virus in Africa?
Communication and misinformation
In Africa, like the rest of the world, the internet, but especially social media remains a favorite source of information. Since this medium can hardly be controlled, people get to receive unverified information that spreads like wildfire across social media platforms. Besides, the pandemic has been a developing story since late 2019 when warnings first went out. Consequently, bloggers are in such a haste to report that many hardly cross checks their facts. In this situation, people receive varying ideas and notions that do not align with reality.
Rumors or a Reality?
From the challenges of effective communication have arisen major concerns that make it even more challenging to fight the pandemic. Dealing with COVID 19 requires solidarity and team spirit. Entire nations and systems need to agree on what they are up against as well as the strategies to overcome it.
However, in Africa, the spread of rumors continues to pose doubts about the reality of the disease. Many Africans have ideas which an informed person could term naïve or even stupid. For example, in the earlier months of 2020, when Africa just began reporting cases, some Africans reacted on social media, spreading information that the pandemic was simply a move by westerners and governments to control its citizens and the world in general. Others said the Corona Virus could not affect people of color or those of tropical Africa because of the harsh climate. I know these ideas sound ridiculous, but to the common man in Africa, who is gripped by fear and uncertainty of the future, propositions like these are a source of hope and a way of escape from reality.
Many have held onto these ideas, resisting any contrary information. In effect, the continent has groups of people in different cities who do not take or support prevention measures. On the streets, one can still find many people walking around with face masks, organizing gatherings and despising basic hygiene.
Less than adequate medical personnel and structures
Several African nations have not had to deal with a pandemic of this nature and seriousness before. Even those who remember experiences of Ebola or Cholera outbreaks did not truly learn from those experiences. At least not enough to establish health structures and train personnel to handle other crises, much less on as large a scale as COVID-19 is.
On the other hand, many African nations were not foresighted. Thus, there were more reactions than proactive moves to arrest the disease before it was too late. By 2nd January 2020, Ivory Coast implemented advanced surveillance at airports to test passengers who had recently been to China. Test centers with equipment were installed to brace for impact. However, in other countries like Cameroon, there is still a need for adequate medical personnel, tests stations and medical structures to handle the pandemic.
Political unrest in the midst of the struggle against COVID-19
Before the first COVID-19 case was reported in Africa, many nations had their plates full of political and social issues to deal with. As at the time of this writing, many African countries are fighting on multiple fronts. Having insurgencies, civil and social unrest on one hand and COVID-19 on the other.
In the Congo, the government has Katanga, Lord’s resistance army and ADF insurgencies to deal with. In Cameroon, the Anglophone crisis which began back in 2017 still has no natural end in sight. This is besides the Boko Haram which has troubled the country from the north for more than a decade. Somalia still struggles with a civil war which began on January 26th of 1991. Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Nigeria and other nations have serious conflicts that are a major concern to their government. As will be expected, rebel groups have no respect for COVID-19 measures, neither do they feel a need to lay off for the time being.
With the advent of COVID-19 in Africa, many nations neither have enough resources or manpower to sustain the fight against the pandemic and civil unrest. The divided attention in posing a serious challenge.
Again, in troubled areas, where governments have little or no control, it is difficult to enforce prevention measures against COVID-19. Residents in such areas also have contact with the rest of the world on a regular basis, making it difficult to track and handle cases of infections.
The way forward?
Clearly, some of the challenges Africa faces in its fight against COOVID-19 can be handled in the short term. Governments can put in more resources and enforce measures to control the spread of the pandemic. But for issues bordering around social and political transitions and conflicts, the government may have to implement policies that actually accommodate or look into the problems of minority and rebellious groups.