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Organizations Tackling COVID-19 in Africa
Since its start, COVID-19 has impacted countries worldwide. Citizens have lost jobs, and countries have taken an economic nosedive. Regions already suffering from poverty prior to the pandemic feel the ramifications of COVID-19 most severely. One particular region is Africa. Several organizations are dedicating efforts to providing aid in Africa amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Action Against Hunger

Action Against Hunger has been providing aid to Africa for more than 40 years to fight hunger and malnutrition. Additionally, the organization works to improve nutrition, water, sanitation, hygiene, mental healthcare and support and emergency response. In 2019 alone, the organization reached 17 million people in need. In the previous year, Action Against Hunger joined the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) as one of the 14 charities committed to providing aid during major humanitarian disasters.

Meril Cullinan, senior communications officer at Action Against Hunger, describes the motivation behind the continued aid in Africa throughout the pandemic: “According to the United Nations, the number of people globally suffering from acute food shortages could nearly double in the next year due to COVID-19 and its economic impacts; in East Africa, food insecurity could double in just the next three months.” In addition to Africa, Action Against Hunger has provided support to the only hospital for those in quarantine in Somalia and has treated 31,000 people suffering from malnutrition across 60 healthcare facilities in Yemen.

Amref Health Africa

Amref Health Africa originated in 1957 under the name “Flying Doctors of East Africa.” At the time, the nonprofit used airplanes to deliver healthcare to communities in need. Over time, Amref Health Africa expanded into what it is today—an aid and advocacy organization with a devotion to providing West, East and southern African citizens, particularly women and girls, with quality health services and training for healthcare workers. Services include maternal healthcare, newborn and child healthcare, and information on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

In 2019, the nonprofit reached five million people in need across 40 countries in Africa. Amref has assisted in stopping deadly outbreaks within Africa, such as Ebola and cholera; “The whole Amref Health Africa family is working towards [sic] the ambitious goal of achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) by 2030.” The focus of Amref Health Africa’s response to COVID-19 has been training healthcare workers, providing access to clean water and proper sanitation, strengthening testing and laboratories and mitigating the secondary impacts of the pandemic.

Successes so far include building water and sanitation infrastructure in six African countries, training 3,000 healthcare workers through the mobile phone application LEAP, expanding COVID-19 testing throughout Africa and advocating for access to crucial services during the lockdown. Camilla Knox-Peebles, chief executive of Amref Health Africa, describes the response to providing aid during COVID-19: “As well as launching new initiatives to support communities affected by COVID-19, we have adapted our existing programmes to ensure they can continue.”

Motivation

Motivation began in 1989 after two students, David Constantine and Simon Gue, entered a competition to design a wheelchair for people with disabilities in developing countries. After their prototype won, they went on to build an actual wheelchair, and the rest is history. Motivation has been building wheelchairs fit for various terrains and conditions in developing countries, particularly East Africa, ever since. The organization also provides training to technicians and clinicians on how to select the proper equipment for particular needs and geographic areas. The 2019-2020 impact report has revealed that the organization serviced 6,918 people, trained 312 families and facilitators, supported 68 wheelchair and outreach services and gave 8,816 people an assistive technology product.

Motivation’s aid in Africa has had to adapt to the COVID-19 climate and its safety precautions. Virtual support has replaced face-to-face programs. The organization has also found ways to deliver food, medical supplies and hygiene products to those in need. Anna Reeve, communications manager at Motivation, says that “We are finding ways to offer training and support remotely as much as we can. And we’re are working to ensure that disabled people’s needs are not forgotten in this crisis. Our teams are in touch with beneficiaries and partners by phone and text messages to share advice.”

Looking Ahead

The entire world has felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many parts of the world are in lockdowns, many people are without food, supplies, medical services and other crucial resources. Thankfully, organizations exist that have a dedication to using modern technological advances to continue supporting developing regions. COVID-19 aid in Africa is essential in order to keep up the progress that has taken decades to achieve. Organizations like Action Against Hunger, Amref Health Africa and Motivation are demonstrating the ways the world’s citizens can continue to help each other in times of need.

– Sage Ahrens-Nichols
Photo: Flickr

Internet in AfricaAfrica has become a hub for electronic expansion in recent years. For example, more and more of its business and financial transactions are being made from mobile devices. Further, new technology in sub-Saharan Africa has rapidly been developed. The region has identified the benefits and uses of new systems of finance and governing. However, even though technology has been a focal point for many sub-Saharan countries recently, Africa’s overall connection to the internet has remained at a low level. Now, COVID-19 poses new challenges to business and connection. For many, having reliable access to the internet in Africa may be the difference between staying above or below the poverty line amid COVID-19.

Access to the Internet in Africa

While technology has rapidly expanded in Africa in recent years, only 18% of the population has reliable internet access, and only one in 10 households are connected to the internet. Further, the majority of this percentage is in urban areas. The governments of African countries face significant challenges in bringing more access to the rural parts.

One of the biggest challenges in this task is the commitment from private companies. Until recently, most of the internet connectivity in Africa has been left up to the private sector. However, the lack of pre-existing infrastructure in Africa’s rural areas makes developing connectivity in these areas quite expensive. For this reason, most of the private companies have never taken the time to invest in these regions. This highlights how technology can sometimes appear to be making great changes to the world, but in reality, it is only helping those who can afford it or who are profitable to invest in. More attention must be paid to the remote and impoverished communities that are not benefiting from our technological advances as this system only deepens inequality.

COVID-19 and Interpersonal Connection

Today, this inequality is beginning to change. Now local governments in Africa are more seriously committed to providing reliable internet to their people. This comes at the most crucial time as the COVID-19 pandemic has created numerous problems for interpersonal connection. Having internet access is now more critical than ever for business, global affairs and education. All of these points are crucial in lifting people out of poverty.

Because of governments’ efforts, many organizations are coming to Africa looking to further increase connectivity. The TZ21 program is successfully bringing new technological devices to Zanzibar in Tanzania. The Alliance for Affordable Internet has also been raising large sums of funding to provide reliable internet access to citizens of Africa. This organization has organized a stakeholder coalition in Nigeria and several other countries to work with local governments with the goal of providing reliable internet for all.

Future Progress for Africa

Africa has made great progress, but it still remains the least connected continent in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how important it is to have internet in Africa. In addition, it also put pressure on local governments to find solutions for their citizens. Building back from this moment, Africa may choose to further invest in the infrastructure, skills, jobs, and policy to allow technology and global connectivity to flourish in Africa. All of these things would boost economies and social awareness all around Africa. It could potentially be the solution to many poverty-related problems.

Jackson Bramhall
Photo: Flickr

covid-19 in africa

On a world map of the distribution of COVID-19 cases, the situation looks pretty optimistic for Africa. While parts of Europe, Asia and the United States have a dark color, indicating relatively high infection rates, most African countries are light in comparison. This has created uncertainty over whether the impact of COVID-19 in Africa is as severe as other continents.

Lack of Testing

A closer look at the areas boasting lighter colors reveals that the situation in Africa is just as obscure as the faded shades that color its countries. In Africa, dark colors indicating high infection rates only mark cities and urban locationsoften the only places where testing is available.

Although insufficient testing has been a problem for countries all over the world, testing numbers are strikingly low in Africa. The U.S. completes 249 tests per 100,000 people per day. In contrast, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, only executes one test per 100,000 people daily. While 6.92% of tests come back positive in the United States, 15.85% are positive in Nigeria. Importantly, Nigeria is one of the best African countries for testing: it carried out 80% of the total number of tests in Africa.

As a continent housing 1.2 billion individuals of the world’s population, Africa is struggling to quantify the impact of COVID-19 without additional testing. To improve these circumstances, the African CDC has set a goal of increasing testing by 1% per month. Realizing the impossibility of reliable testing, countries like Uganda have managed to slow the virus’ spread by imposing strict lockdown measures. As a result, the percentage of positive cases in Uganda was only 0.78% as of Sept. 1, 2020.

A Young Population

COVID-19 in Africa has had a lower fatality rate than any other continent. In fact, many speculate that fatality rates may even be lower than reported. Immunologists in Malawi found that 12% of asymptomatic healthcare workers had the virus at some point. The researchers compared their data with other countries and estimated that death rates were eight times lower than expected.

The most likely reason for the low fatality rate in Africa is its young population. Only 3% of Africans are above 65, compared with 6% in South Asia and 17% in Europe. Researchers are investigating other explanations such as possible immunity to certain variations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and higher vitamin D levels due to greater sunlight exposure.

Weak Healthcare Systems

Despite these factors, the impact of COVID-19 in Africa is likely high. Under-reporting and under-equipped hospitals unprepared to handle surges in cases may contribute to unreliable figures. In South Sudan, there were only four ventilators and 24 ICU beds for a population of 12 million. Accounting for 23% of the world’s diseases and only 1% of global public health expenditure, Africa’s healthcare system was already strained.

Healthcare workers are at the highest risk of infection in every country. In Africa, the shortage of masks and other equipment increases the infection rate among healthcare workers even further. Africa also has the lowest physician-to-patient ratio in the world. As it can take weeks to recover from COVID-19, the infection and subsequent recovery times for healthcare workers imply that fewer are available to work. Thus, COVID-19 in Africa further exacerbates its healthcare shortage.

Additionally, individuals who are at-risk or uninsured can rarely afford life-saving treatment in Africa. For example, a drug called remdesivir showed promising results in treating COVID-19. However, the cost of treatment with remdesivir is $3120. While this is a manageable price for insurance-covered Americans, it is not affordable for the majority of Africans. Poverty therefore has the potential to increase the severity of COVID-19 in Africa.

Economic and Psychological Factors

Strict lockdowns have helped some nations control the spread of COVID-19 in Africa, but at a heavy price. A general lack of technology means that, following widespread school shutdowns, students have stopped learning. Many adults have also lost their jobs. More than 3 million South Africans have become unemployed due to the lockdown.

Furthermore, the lockdowns have also resulted in much higher rates of domestic violence, abuse and child marriage. Many such cases are unreported, meaning that the real scope of the problem is probably larger. Mental health services for victims or those struggling through the pandemic are also often unavailable. In Kenya, the United Nations has appealed for $4 million to support those affected by gender-based violence.

The slow spread of COVID-19 in Africa has allowed the continent and its leaders to prepare. Importantly, its young population will lessen the severity of the virus’ impact. Although these circumstances provide reasons to be hopeful, there is no doubt that Africa’s economy and future will suffer from the virus. This potential highlights the need for foreign assistance not only in controlling COVID-19 in Africa but in the continent’s recovery for years to come.

– Beti Sharew
Photo: Flickr