HOME-MADE SOLUTIONS

Local evidence needed in Africa’s Covid-19 responses

Taiwan, Singapore took quick drastic measures to curb virus due to experience with SARS.

In Summary
  • Context-sensitive evidence needs to inform the adaptation of global solutions to Covid-19 so that these are more responsive to Africa’s unique context.
  • Documenting evidence on the lessons from African countries that experienced and addressed Ebola could also be valuable in designing country responses to Covid-19.
A worker sorts PPEs under production
A worker sorts PPEs under production
Image: ANDREW KASUKU

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Globally, more than a 1.7 million cases have been reported with 108,000 of deaths affecting a broad range of ages. Coronavirus has so far spread in all African countries except Lesotho & Comoros within weeks, reaching 12966 cases and 695 deaths. Though escalating cases, Africa has been lucky to have a delayed onset of the spread of Covid-19. The continent has had the benefit of time to learn from measures and contingencies that are working in other countries.

Globally, coronavirus has spread rapidly and countries are using various measures to curb the pandemic disease. These measures include complete and/or partial lockdowns, shifting to remote working, online schooling, promoting hand-washing, and social distancing. Seemingly, many countries have adopted lockdown policies where majority of citizens are advised to stay home and prepare for what could be months of isolation and social distancing. However, some of the recommended measures are not practical in the African setting.

Covid-19 could bring Africa’s weak health systems to their knees

Experts are worried about Covid-19 rapidly spreading in Africa and numbers rising to those recorded in countries such as China and Italy. WHO is supporting African governments with early detection by providing Covid-19 testing kits, training health workers, and strengthening surveillance in communities. 47 out of 54 countries in the WHO African region can now test for Covid-19.

A major concern is the fragile health systems in most African countries that often suffer from minimal or no medical supplies and equipment, inadequate funding, shortage of adequately trained healthcare personnel, and inefficient data transmission and use. These weak health care systems are currently overburdened by diseases such as malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, cholera, cancer, diabetes, and maternal and child health issues. Clearly, these systems currently have no capacity to deal with Covid-19. Experts, therefore, fear that the pandemic could be difficult to manage in Africa, and could cause huge numbers of deaths and grave economic problems if it spreads widely.

African countries must learn from own experiences in managing Ebola, polio and cholera

In the last three years, Africa has had significant experience having dealt with different epidemics like Ebola, polio and cholera. Hence, drawing lessons learnt on preparedness and response to previous epidemics is crucial in enabling African countries develop effective strategies to curb the spread of Covid-19. For example, there is undocumented evidence that Taiwan and Singapore took quick drastic measures to curb Covid-19 due to their experience with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Active surveillance network, among other, measures helped to control and prevent massive spread of the disease epidemics in their countries. Documenting evidence on the lessons from African countries that experienced and addressed Ebola could also be valuable in designing country responses to Covid-19.

Evidence is key

Certainly, African leaders need evidence from African contexts and other similar contexts to provide practical policies and programmatic solutions to Covid-19. This context-sensitive evidence needs to inform the adaptation of global solutions to Covid-19 so that these are more responsive to Africa’s unique context.

In most African countries, however, the institutional systems and structures that can readily provide such locally relevant evidence are either weak or missing altogether. In some cases, governments are also not reaching out to local scholars and institutions to provide the evidence they need to adapt global solutions to Africa’s contexts.

The African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP) is currently contributing to addressing the weak institutional capacities for ready access to evidence by ministries of health in Kenya and Malawi. This work, initiated in September 2019, hope to support the two ministries to strengthen their existing structures for research and knowledge-gathering, synthesis, and sharing in order to readily access and use evidence as and when needs arise.

Research and policy analyst, African Institute for Development Policy