ALARMS OF APOCALYPSE

Western think tanks, donor agencies waiting to exploit Africa’s Covid-19 crisis

As they have famine and poverty.

In Summary
  • Africa’s progress in the last 20 years has little to do with western largesse.
  • Africa does not need saving. We need respectful partnerships.
Africa vs West
Africa vs West

The coronavirus pandemic rages. Globally more than 2.4 million people have been infected. Nearly 170,000 are dead in less than five months. Case fatality rates range from two per cent in South Korea and Japan to 13 per cent in the United Kingdom and Italy.

The scale of morbidity and mortality from Covid-19 has ravaged healthcare resources even in the so-called developed countries. Health experts are now questioning the capacity of medicalised, hospital-based and patient-centred care systems to cope with pandemics. This is a painful teachable moment.

Covid-19 and the Spanish flu are strikingly similar. People wearing face masks, field hospitals. The New York subway packed with infected workers who could not afford to skip work and stay home. Morgues and cemeteries in Europe and the USA overwhelmed. A crucial similarity is that there is no treatment for Covid-19, just like the Spanish flu in 1918.

The enduring similarity 100 years later, between the two pandemics, is that hospitals could not cope then just like today. But there is a distinct, important difference. What bent the deadly curve of illness and mortality from the Spanish flu in New York was not more ventilators in the hospital.

It was the heroic acts of Lillian Wald who mobilised a legion of nurses to visit patients in their homes, in what was likely the first community health work ever recorded.

For western think tanks and donor agencies, the coronavirus pandemic is another opportunity to up the ante and pummel the alarms of apocalypse. Africa is on the brink of catastrophic, irreversible socioeconomic and political collapse unless the west drops in with aid and medical relief.

No government leader, from Trump to the band of warlords in Somalia is uniquely gifted to navigate the complex balance between securing health and economic security of their nations. To suggest, without reliable evidence, that the African continent will be especially worse off from the impact of Covid-19 than any other region is patronising and patently offensive.

McKinsey & Company has the numbers from a hat. It is gigantic and urgent. Africa must invest $5 billion in its health systems capacity in the next 100 days or the brutal Covid-19 surge we witnessed in Lombardy and New York will look mild. According to McKinsey & Company, Africa has just 1.7 ICU beds per 1,000 compared to 29.4 ICU beds per 1,000 in the United States. Moreover, Africa has 3,500 ventilators, compared to the US, which has 160,000 ventilators.

Africa has a population of 1.22 billion and a labour force of about 450 million. McKinsey $ Company projects that between 9 and 18 million jobs will be lost due to the economic impact of Covid-19 in 100 days. Keep in mind that 22 million Americans have lost their jobs in just four weeks.

No government leader, from Trump to the band of warlords in Somalia is uniquely gifted to navigate the complex balance between securing health and economic security of their nations. To suggest, without reliable evidence, that the African continent will be especially worse off from the impact of Covid-19 than any other region is patronising and patently offensive.

Africa’s progress in the last 20 years has little to do with western largesse. Don’t exploit the coronavirus pandemic to mint another development porn, like famine and poverty. Africa does not need saving. We need respectful partnerships.