Summary of the African Situation and Response to the Pandemic

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted economic, health and living conditions on the African continent. Since the 3rd of March 2020 when three African countries first reported confirmed cases, up to 47 Africa countries have now reported a cumulative 891,942 confirmed cases. The impact on individuals, families and communities across Africa has been unprecedented. The occurrence of this pandemic within the timeframe of an unfinished African agenda on control of communicable diseases and an increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases portends great danger for weak African Health Systems. The economic loss while still unfolding is projected to be quite huge. Happily, even though previous predictions from outside Africa had projected an exponential increase and profound mortality, current data suggest the virus is spreading more slowly in Africa than was initially anticipated. Mortality has also been low with a total number of deaths put at 16,941 (case fatality ratio of ~ 1.9%).

Population testing still remains low, with many countries still unable to test beyond the big cities, which makes it difficult to correctly assess the true situation and predict the trend in African countries. However, it is pleasing that despite health system challenges and resource limitations, African countries have done relatively well in managing this pandemic. The tremendous efforts put into contact listing, contact tracing, active surveillance and ramping up basic public health measures like handwashing and social distancing has been unprecedented. The adaptation of risk communication strategies to fit contextual backgrounds has been remarkable. At the centre of all these efforts are the African epidemiologists who continue to toil night and day to find some meaning out of the crisis and are at the forefront of advancing strategies based on science, data and logic. These contributions would not be forgotten in a hurry! Now more than ever is the work of the epidemiologist appreciated. Whether in large urban hospital settings, or in the far-flung communities that are hard to reach or in conflict zones amid grave threats to life and personal security, our colleagues across Africa have demonstrated the importance of epidemiology in understanding a virus that most times is hidden in our very midst. We must continue to encourage them, support them and collaborate in sharing unique experiences that would engender co-learning. This pandemic will redefine epidemiology and the skill sets and competencies needed to practice as an epidemiologist globally and particularly in resource poor settings like Africa. This reinforces our stance as the International Epidemiological Association- African Region on the need to rethink, reposition and rebrand epidemiology for greater impact and it further sets us on the path to achieving the “Maputo Declaration” set by the African arm of the association on 17th of April, 2019. The IEA-Africa region salutes the resilience and dedication of our colleagues across the African Continent and globally.