Hidden Challenges in Africa’s Covid Fight

Joseph Dana
4 min readOct 16, 2020

Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, there was great concern over how the disease would affect Africa. Overcrowded and under-resourced healthcare networks across the continent, coupled with a high prevalence of other infectious diseases such as malaria and HIV, were seen as a potential timebomb. Six months later, the most dire health warnings have proven to be incorrect.

Things are bad (and likely worse than official numbers imply) but they aren’t as devastating as initially feared. The real challenges are economic, many African countries are reeling from a devastating Covid-related economic fallout that demands action.

High Transmission, Low Mortality

As the world marked the one-millionth reported Covid-related death in September, Africa’s total was just over 35,000. That’s 3.5 percent for 17 percent of the world’s population. Is this accurate? It’s hard to say. Take East Africa, for example. While Kenya and Uganda moved quickly to implement lockdowns and social distancing, Tanzania’s president encouraged people to attend churches and mosques because he said Covid-19 was the work of the devil and prayer could defeat the virus.

Unsurprisingly, exact numbers on Covid cases in Tanzania are difficult to come by. Meanwhile, Kenya (population: 51.5 million) has had 42,000 cases and 787 deaths; Uganda (population: 43 million) has had 10,000 cases and 95 deaths; and Nigeria (population: 196 million), 61,000 cases and 1,116 deaths. Tanzania, with a population of 56 million, has reported 509 cases of infection. No data is available for Covid-related deaths.

Africa’s pandemic response is a convoluted and confusing story. Many governments established full and dramatic lockdowns early on. South Africa’s lockdown, which barred outdoor exercise and the sale of alcohol and tobacco, was one of the strictest in the world. Zimbabwe only began easing its lockdown in the last two months. Despite these measures, the virus has run rampant across the continent, but death rates are among the lowest globally.

Scientists believe the continent’s mostly young population is the primary reason for the low death rate. There is additional research suggesting that the BCG vaccination against tuberculosis, which is provided at birth in most…