In the third of our articles on Covid-19 in Africa, we look at how well-prepared governments in Africa are for the pandemic.

Sub-Saharan Africa – a pandemic in waiting?

The numbers of confirmed cases in Africa now stand at 10,150. In the countries where BWAUK has projects, the numbers so far remain low: Burundi:5, Kenya 208 (with 9 deaths), Rwanda 127, Sierra Leone 1, Zimbabwe 17 (with 3 deaths). There is a feeling of waiting for the worst to arrive.

As Melanie Blake MBE, founder and director of the Kamili Organisation, which runs mental health clinics in Kenya, described: “Some 90% of the people we see are worried, and stressed about how they are going to cope. Will they run out of money?”.

The Kamili Organisation staff wearing full protective gear during COVID19 pandemic in Nairobi KenyaThe Kamili Team at their clinic in Nairobi

Towns emptying as countries wait for Covid-19 to hit

As governments start to implement lockdown measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, one reaction has been a return to the countryside. Le Monde reported that in Kenya, news of the first case on 13 March led to a dash to the countryside, with people desperately trying to take buses out of Nairobi, the capital. In other countries, similar scenes were witnessed, with families leaving big cities by car, bicycle or on foot, to reach their villages, sometimes hundreds of kilometers away.

According to the WHO’s African Office, it is highly likely that most African countries will be overwhelmed if – or when – the pandemic strikes. Most countries have at least one treatment centre, but some have less than 10 beds, while some have 100 beds. Of the countries surveyed, only 50% had undertaken any Covid-19 staff training for case management and just over half had personal protection equipment (PPE) available and accessible to healthcare workers.

“The (Kenyan) government has been phenomenal, they’re being totally transparent.” 

Some governments better prepared than others

Nevertheless, some governments are reacting faster, and better than others.

“The (Kenyan) government has been phenomenal, they’re being totally transparent”, says Melanie Blake. “There are now about 200 cases, and we’re receiving daily updates about what is happening”. There is also an emergency number for those with symptoms, and anyone who calls will receive a visit from a Ministry of Health doctor.

The Kamili Organisation is working hard to continue to support its patients, despite the obstacles. Patients’ temperature is scanned for signs of fever when they arrive, everyone maintains social distancing, all staff wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) equipment (which the clinic purchased) and ensures hand washing and strict health measures are kept to.

The Ghanaian government is also demonstrating preparedness. It has purchased and distributed large stores of PPE from abroad, including gowns, masks and gloves. It is also supporting local industry to produce its own supplies, a move which will offer employment to the population.

To cope with anticipated staff shortages and ease communications the government is recruiting more health workers and volunteers. In addition, health professionals will get additional insurance and won’t pay income tax until July.

Ghana Health Service COVID19 prevention leafletA leaflet by the Ghana Health Service

A different perspective for Africa?

Unfortunately, most countries do not have the funds to take the urgent measures needed. However, there is hope that Africa’s different environment and a more dispersed population, could prevent the terrible death totals seen in Europe.

Bread and Water for Africa UK’s priority has been to ensure the communities we serve continue to have access to basic services, water and nutrition. We are working closely with our partners to ensure they can adapt their strategies and programmes to reach those most in needs, while implementing strict safety and distancing measures.

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by Daphne Davies, volunteer journalist