While struggling with climate change, armed conflicts and poverty, African nations face a new version of a contagious virus with no vaccine to protect citizens or proper health care systems.
Since the coronavirus pandemic was reported on the continent in March, it has claimed 41,262 lives, while infecting 1,716,864, and 1,406,528 recoveries have been recorded, according to data compiled by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday.
Regionally, southern Africa suffered the most cases and deaths that now stand at 792,570 and 20,403, respectively.
However, the region also has the largest number of recoveries with 705,542.
North Africa, meanwhile, recorded 472,367 cases and 13,193 deaths.
COVID-19 has reportedly claimed 3,803 lives while infecting 204,718 in East Africa,.
West Africa, according to Africa CDC’s figures, has witnessed, 2,730 COVID-19-related deaths and 187,449 infections.
And in Central Africa, as of Monday, 1,133 COVID-19-related deaths and 59,760 cases, according to Africa CDC.
In an article about the pandemic’s effects on Africa, the director of Africa CDC John Nkengasong wrote last week: “The SARS-CoV-2 [COVID-19] pandemic has revealed that Africa needs a new public health order to be resilient, to adapt, and to cope with 21st-century disease threats.”
According to Nkengasong, this new order will need a “strengthened continental and national public health institutions; local manufacturing of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics; attraction, training, and retention of a public health workforce; and fostering of respectful local and international partnerships.”
Nkengasong’s article comes while several international organizations and humanitarian NGOs have released reports regarding the serious situation, in particular African regions, regarding floods, armed conflicts, locust attacks and a lack of basic services like access to clean water or circumstances that allow social distance needed to avoid the contagious virus.
According to reports, even the international humanitarian fund allocated for Africa is facing a shortage to help African adults and children in the face of a complicated scene in which insecurity, hunger, poverty, health treat and being deprived of education opportunities are being mixed.
Poor health systems
In March 2017, a report shared by the UN said 1.6 million Africans have died of malaria, tuberculosis and HIV-related illnesses in 2015, mainly because of a lack of medicine.
“Less than 2% of drugs consumed in Africa are produced on the continent, meaning that many sick patients do not have access to locally produced drugs and may not afford to buy the imported ones,” it said.
For instance, in parts of Zimbabwe, nurses could give pain killers to patients as a “treat-all drug.”
It went on to voice that nearly 80% of Africans “rely on public health facilities, … with public health facilities suffering chronic shortages of critical drugs,” leaving many patients dead from “easily curable diseases.”
After COVID-19 invaded Africa, several reports talked about protests and strikes by doctors and health workers in African countries because of a lack of protection to deal with the contagious virus and providing help to infected patients.
Doctors and health workers also have suffered from a lack of rights, including prober wages and basic financial rights.
Kenya, the third-largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa, witnessed a strike by doctors in public hospitals in Nairobi in August to protest delayed salaries and a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling COVID-19 patients.
Amid continuing protests, the Kenyan president called for investigations into alleged embezzlement of funds meant to fight the coronavirus outbreak.
In Nigeria, doctors and health workers have repeatedly gone on strike and protested the lack of PPE for health care workers and demanded payment of salaries.
In June, the National Association of Resident Doctors of Nigeria began an indefinite nationwide strike, demanding the government make “alternative arrangements” for patient care amid COVID-19.
Nigerian health workers resumed duties after the government released 4.6 billion Nigerian nairas ($11.9 million) later in June to pay hazard allowance to 55,031 workers in 35 coronavirus designated hospitals and medical centers.
However, in September, doctors in Abuja started an “indefinite strike” due to non-payment of a special coronavirus allowance.
That happened while in some Ugandan areas most front-line health workers lack transport to hospitals, as the country received donated bicycles for health workers in the Sembabule and Kitgum districts in May.
In the hardest-hit African country, South Africa, the health system has been affected by “the lack of PPEs, increased mortality rates, mental health problems, substance abuse, resurgent of NCDs [noncommunicable ciseases],” according to a research released in September by the Science Direct journal.
“The closure of international borders, global demand meltdown, supply disruptions, dramatic scaling down of human and industrial activities during lockdown cause socio-economic problems,” read the research.
“The prolonged effects of lockdown on psychosocial support services resulted in the outbursts of uncertainties, acute panic, fear, depression, obsessive behaviours, social unrests, stigmatization, anxiety, increased gender-based violence cases and discrimination in the distribution of relief food aid,” it added.
Citing a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), Africa CDC director said in an article last Thursday entitled, “Africa Needs a New Public Health Order to Tackle Infectious Disease Threats,” that the new public health order in African countries “must stand on four pillars: strengthened public health institutions; local manufacturing of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics; a strengthened public health workforce; and respectful local and international partnerships.”
“Africa finds itself balancing its developmental aspirations with strengthening its health systems to help it fight synergistic concurrent epidemics,” said Nkengasong. “It is faced with a set of linked health problems that interact synergistically, contributing to its excess burden of disease: rising rates of non-communicable diseases, emerging and re-emerging infections, and endemic diseases.”
This comes while African countries are struggling with high suicide rates, and therefore the need for mental health care is of utmost importance, according to a warning by the WHO.
Government expenditure on mental health is “very low” on the continent — less than 10 cents as compared to the global average of $2.50 per person, Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa director, said during a virtual media briefing on COVID-19 and mental health in Africa.
According to the WHO, critical funding gaps are halting and disrupting crucial mental health services in Africa as demand for services rises amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes the latter whether an additional crisis to suffer or a serious alarm to push Africans to survive.
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