Health in Africa

COVID-19: Africa could suffer 1.2 bln infections, 3.3 mln deaths, UN agency warns

A host of factors make the continent particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, it said

 
By Kiran Pandey
Published: Friday 17 April 2020
Photo: Zweli Mkhize @DrZweliMkhize / Twitter
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Apr 15

Africa could have 1.2 billion infections due to novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and lose 3.3 million lives, according to a new report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) released on April 17, 2020.

These numbers could be reduced to 112 million infections and 300,000 deaths if the continent follows “early and intensive social distancing”, the report, based on a modeling study by the Imperial College London’s COVID-19 response team, added.

Around 22.5 million people will need hospitalisation and 4.4 million people will need critical care in the worst-case scenario. But even under the best-case scenario (practice of social distancing), 2.3 million are likely to be hospitalised and 500,000 people will need critical care.

“Africa is particularly susceptible because 56 per cent of its urban population is concentrated in slums or informal dwellings and only 34 per cent of African households have access to basic hand washing facilities,” Vera Songwe, UN Under Secretary-General and Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Africa, said in a statement.

Around  66 per cent of African households have limited or no access to hand washing facilities.

Lower ratios of hospital beds and health professions to its population also make Africa particularly vulnerable, the report warned.

Africa had just 1.8 average hospital beds per 1,000 people, the report said. This was way behind France that had 5.98 hospital beds per 1,000 people. Despite this, France had recorded 165,027 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and lost 17,920 lives as on April 17, 2020.

Africa imports 51 per cent of its medicinal and pharmaceutical products from Europe, making it more vulnerable.

Impact on economy

COVID-19’s impact on Africa’s economies is expected to worsen the situation. Growth is expected to slow down to 1.8 per cent, from 3.2 per cent in a best-case scenario, pushing close to 27 million people into extreme poverty.

The week legal identity systems for direct benefit transfers make the continent further vulnerable.

Africa’s small and medium enterprises risk complete close-down, if there is no immediate support warns the report.

Exports from the continent have crashed down. For example, oil that accounts for 40 per cent of Africa’s exports has halved in value. Exports of textiles and fresh-cut flowers have crashed.

Around 43 countries in Africa have closed their borders according to the Africa Centre for Disease Control, completely affecting tourism, which accounts for up to 38 per cent of some African countries’ gross domestic product.

The airline industry that provides employment to over 6.2 million people, is on a backtrack, according to the report.

The UNECA report, based on in-depth analyses, was presented to African ministers of finance in two virtual meetings.

The report called for $100 billion to be given to Africa to tackle the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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