Pandemic exposes Failings in Africa’s health systems

  • African nations are facing a surge of COVID-19 cases with less than one intensive care bed and one ventilator per 100,000 people a Reuters survey has found
  • South Sudan, a nation of 11 million, has more vice presidents than ventilators . 
  • The Central African Republic has three ventilators for its five million people. 
  • In Liberia, which is similar in size, there are six working machines and one of them sits behind the gates of the United States Embassy.

The shortages across Africa’s national health systems is grime, which polled 54 countries and received responses from health officials or independent experts in 48 of them. 

The results capture the continent’s key resources, testing and personnel for the disease caused by the new coronavirus till date, with a death toll of  262,000 people worldwide, according to a Reuters tally.

Every one for himself?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Africa, home to 1.3 billion people, could become the next epicentre of the pandemic. The reality on ground reverberates the warnings,

Low levels of Testing hides the real figures

The continent has recorded over 51,000 COVID-19 cases, a fraction of the 3.76 million recorded globally, according to a Reuters tally. 

But low levels of testing make it impossible to know the true scale of infection. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has said Africa could see nearly 123 million cases this year, causing 300,000 deaths.

Reuters analysis of the projections by scientists at Britain’s MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, on which the UNECA forecasts that in a scenario where total lockdown is enforced;

121,000 critical care beds will be needed continent-wide when the pandemic peaks compared with just 9,800 available intensive care beds found in the survey, conducted through April and May. 

The survey also revealed severe shortfalls in testing, personnel and oxygen supplies.

What steps can correct these Pitfalls?

A lot more people are beginning to take the pandemic seriously thanks to strict policies enforced by various African Governments like in Ghana, Mask has been made mandatory when engaging in the public. The use of technology and social media has played a huge role in raising public health awareness.

Dr. Juliet Nyaga, chief executive of Karen Hospital, a private facility in Kenya, likened the pandemic in Africa to   “being in a movie that no one has ever rehearsed, and we didn’t get the script.”

International organizations including the WHO and World Bank are hampered by the lack of reliable data to guide how resources should be allocated.

Africa’s testing capacity needs to be increased

Reuters’ tally of figures from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) reports that Africa’s testing capacity for the period is   685 tests per million people compared with Europe which has carried out nearly 17 million tests, or just under 23,000 per million.

Is Africa running out of steam?

The continent’s three most populous nations - Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt - have 1,920 intensive care beds between them for more than 400 million people. 

The Nigeria health minister seem to take this lightly saying that most of its ICU equipment has not been used yet, but more equipments had been purchased. He did not put a number to this  The other two nations kept mute on the situation.

Getting a camel to enter a needle's eye.

 Accessibility, cost and the skills needed to operate it means that in the eventuality that Nigeria receives a fraction of it which is far fetched, getting it in the winds would prove cumbersome. 

Chad, an oil-rich but impoverished nation of 15 million people, has only 10, whereas the island nation of Mauritius, a financial hub home to 1.2 million, has 121.

Most COVID-19 patients who need critical care also need a ventilator. The survey reports that  9,300 of the continent’s 9,800 intensive care beds have ventilators. You should read that again!

Some nations, such as Guinea Bissau, have no ventilators at all. Mauritania has one; Liberia said it has six; Somalia has 19. 

An eclectic look at the depleted infrastructures in Africa will leave a bitter taste in your imagination if you add that to the pitfalls mentioned above.

What's  essential is that accurate health data should be made available regardless of bruised ego's.

We also don’t need alms when we have arms that can build our own ventilators given the adequate funds and training right?