War on Covid-19 brings with it far-reaching lessons for Africa

Wednesday April 1 2020


As of March 30, the new coronavirus is reported to have infected more than 770,165 people worldwide with over 36,938 deaths. PHOTO | FILE 

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As of March 30, the new coronavirus is reported to have infected more than 650,000 people worldwide with over 33,000 deaths.

Over 1,400 infections have been recorded in about 34 African countries. But, has Africa learnt from the response efforts of other countries or from previous epidemics to tackle the spread of Covid-19?

Since the outbreak, the World Health Organisation has been supporting African governments with early detection by providing thousands of Covid-19 testing kits, training health workers and strengthening surveillance in communities.

This was aimed to enable Africa to have a firm foundation in  identifying, managing the disease and limiting widespread transmission. Some developed economies detected the virus and developed top-down efforts as well as put in place the necessary measures early.

What lessons can the war on Covid-19 teach Africa? Strengthening health systems not just in emergencies. All African countries ought to invest heavily in outbreak preparation and building health care infrastructure - Ebola and HIV should have served as a wakeup call.

WHO warned of the risk that COVID-19 could spread to countries with weaker health systems, including in sub-Saharan Africa, which has been engulfed with poor sanitation facilities, the proliferation of informal economy and urban crowding pose additional challenges in the efforts to combat the highly infectious disease.


 It is therefore important for Africa to build its health systems, learning from previous cases.

Embracing electronic platforms for education. Schools were abruptly shut down, which meant many teachers were yet to finalise their classes for the period. In a bid to keep the students occupied while at home, many schools and education agencies on the African continent have tried to introduce classes and lessons as well as assessments online.

These tools and new teaching techniques are going to keep the students learning. Although the online learning is only temporary, it’s vital for Africa to embrace e-learning platforms early as the education and IT experts predict online education will one day become the new normal, due to the proliferating technological advancement.

Embracing cashless and online business activities.  Since Covid-19 landed, extraordinary measures have been adopted to contain its threat. Because hand-to-hand exchange of physical currency could transmit the coronavirus, people have opted for cashless measures.

This might turn out to be the catalyst that finally brings digital payments fully into the mainstream, which is the thing to embrace. Additionally, some business have introduced online platforms to continue their trading, an aspect that can be further embraced, which helps reduce time wastage.

Finally, African governments should have a database of  people at risk, for example, the disabled, and those who live alone so that they can  deliver supplies and food  to them.

Africa  must prepare for the worst. But in addition to tremendous leadership needed, it is pivotal for all citizens to know that basic preventative measures by individuals and communities remain the most powerful tool to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Joseph Nkurunziza, a public health practitioner, is the executive director at Never Again Rwanda and the chairperson of the Rwanda Civil Society Platform. Twitter @JosephRyarasa