Africa’s “new normal” is in the hands of its private sector

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By Hennie Stander

First published on June 1, 2020

The entire world has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The effect of COVID-19 pandemic on Africa is yet to unfold, and could be dreadful. Many developing nations are not well positioned to control the outbreak. Issues like food insecurity and lack of drinking water compound the problem.

In the first article of our KimboCare’s COVID-19 series, we noted the importance of afro-centric solutions and the critical role of the private sector in fighting this crisis. Here at KimboCare our number one priority is to empower and enable underserved nations to grow economically and socially. In this article, we want to acknowledge private initiatives, taking novel steps to enable African countries to fight the pandemic and reduce the long-term devastation of COVID-19.

Just How Challenging Is the Situation?

According to Forbes, Africa has not seen the number of COVID-19 deaths as other more developed nations. However, that may change, and when it does, it will create severe problems for countries that already lack resources. As of early May, COVID-19 spread to more than 30 African countries, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that Africa could see close to 200,000 deaths over the next year if the pandemic is not contained. It is hard to say where each country truly stands in terms of infection rates and deaths, given significantly low levels of tests available per capita. For example, Senegal, a country that has led efforts to produce $1 more affordable testing kits, has only about 1.6 tests available per 1000 people, compared to 32 in the United States.

Africa faces a few more key challenges related to COVID-19. The first problem is a shortage of essential personal protective equipment or PPEForbes estimates that Africa will need as many as 500,000 ventilators to deal with the crisis. Unfortunately, it is difficult to ascertain how many ventilators some of the countries in Africa have on hand. According to Reuters, the entire continent averages less than one ventilator per 100,000 people. Many nations have far fewer than that. For instance, when asked by reporters, Central African Republic’s Health Minister Pierre Somse said that they have only three ventilators on hand. Many of these nations don’t have the budgets needed to purchase more ventilators. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible for the existing supply chain to meet the demand that will be required.

The second issue is that the coronavirus pandemic could very well lead to an increase in the number of deaths from chronic problems like HIV. According to WHO, a six-month disruption in antiretroviral therapy due to COVID-19 could lead to nearly a half a million more deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.

A third issue is that interruptions in the supply chain will likely make food insecurity issues even worse. The number of people at risk of starvation in developing nations is currently 135 million. However, experts expect that number to double to 265 million after COVID-19. There are several reasons for this. The pandemic results in funding cuts to programs that provide aid. Additionally, restrictions on agriculture that stem from sick workers and social distancing rules limit the amount of food produced.

All of these problems may lead to the weakening of the continent on a vast scale, which is the very thing that we are fighting against at KimboCare. The situation becomes even more concerning, as governments begin to ease restrictions to alleviate economic pain on households and prevent substantial slowdown. The risk of a second round of lockdown is real, should return to “new normal” not be smart and intelligently orchestrated.

What Is Being Done?

The good news is that private companies are increasingly stepping up to help. For example, software developers Trixta developed an app to track COVID-19 data in real-time. This app allows doctors and hospitals in Africa to follow cases in real-time, and helps hospitals and clinics to better plan how to use limited supplies, such as ventilators and hospital beds.

Another company that has stepped up to help is Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. (AECI) in South Africa, one of the nations most impacted by the coronavirus. WHO has praised this country for managing to curb the spread of COVID-19. AECI was one of the first private companies to step up; they donated more than 1.9 million Rands. The country has used the money for medical staff in hospitals, hand-washing stations at clinics, hand sanitizer for vulnerable communities, and more.

With countless private sector led initiatives continuously popping up across African countries to combat the outbreak, from educational health campaigns to protection gear production to affordable testing kits or to case tracking apps as mentioned above, the crisis is unveiling Africa’s tremendous potential for sustainable growth and economic independence.

What Now?

Now is Africa impacted as much as we expected? It is hard to tell. Numbers of reported COVID-19 cases are going up in several countries, but the continent appears to benefit from several factors including: proven experience fighting catastrophic epidemics, higher temperatures potentially inhibiting longevity of the virus in the air, and population largely hitting outside covid-19 vulnerable demographics with 62 years life expectancy and 20 years median age. As Quartz Africa notesAfrica is resilient.

Governments, corporations and individuals have the opportunity to rethink engagement and collaboration norms to allow all parties to contribute a meaningful part to Africa’s journey into the “new normal”. More than ever, the continent needs help from its private sector to achieve post-pandemic recovery and beyond.

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By Murielle Tiambo and Franck TiamboKimboCare Enthusiasts