Understanding the local context across the continent, is in my opinion key in the approach to fighting this pandemic. Factors such as low level health infrastructure, often crowded areas of make shift inner-city housing and a lack of an established test and trace system across Africa are all details that need to be considered. A difficult tightrope to balance in such times, will inevitably involve ‘health protection strategies’, against mitigating the economic impact. Therefore applying the correct, yet also realistically achievable measures efficiently and effectively could certainly help limit the economic impact and control the spread of the virus.

Food distribution as part of Covid-19 response at GFYA

The UK is already learning of the detrimental impact that a sole focus on Covid-19 has had on other illnesses and conditions. In hindsight, an approach where hospitals continue their work for all other patients and covid-19 patients are treated elsewhere in separate specially designated hospitals may be preferred.

Much more understanding is now growing about the catastrophic impact lockdowns are having in Africa. There has been a sharp fall in the number of children being vaccinated, resulting in some of the most vulnerable communities missing out on life saving protection against diseases such as measles, tetanus, yellow fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria and cholera. These are diseases often forgotten about and side-lined during the pandemic.  Disruption to the global immunisation programme is very bad news for countries in Africa, which include some of the poorest in the World. It is estimated that immunisations save up to 3million lives every year, giving children life-saving protection against serious diseases. 

"Schools have also been closed in many African countries, greatly impacting on children’s education."

However the grim reality is that the long term economic impact of Covid-19 control measures means many families will simply be unable to afford to send their children back to school. It will also greatly impact access to health services and medicine for some of the poorest in society, such as treatment for malaria, diarrhoeal diseases and HIV/Aids.

 Empty School in Bujumbura, Burundi.

There is no doubting the incredible inner-strength, creativity, resilience, ingenuity, determination and entrepreneurship of the African people. Relentlessly and heroically providing for their families and never giving up, despite facing some of the most unimaginable of challenges. It is this love and pride for family, community and hard work that I find so inspiring. Nonetheless be under no illusion the catastrophic impact that poorly managed COVID-19 control measures are having on education, food security, access to safe water, health and jobs, with a real absence of measures to mitigate the impact on some of the poorest people on the Continent. It is undoubtedly essential that effective strategies are established to combat the threat of COVID-19 in Africa, however it is also imperative that the long term impact on all other sectors of life across the African continent are taken into account.   

 Part 2 of 3

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Part 3 will be examining the lessons that can be learnt from understanding how COVID-19 behaves in a local African context and how this could change the way the disease is fought.

Jonathan CONWAY is a Television Broadcast Journalist who has lived and worked in Uganda and kindly dedicated his spare-time to write articles for Bread and Water for Africa UK on a voluntary basis.