Covid-19 and Africa

Written by Ulrike Schuerkens.

Let’s say: I’m not a doctor, but a university professor who is also interested in the socio-anthropology of health. I have been observing for weeks the development of COVID-19 around the world and particularly in Africa where the ManaGlobal project that I coordinate is taking place.

What I have noticed are border closures in the South and North which have prevented a certain number of contaminations triggered by travelers, especially in the countries of the South. Rapid political reactions in Senegal, Cameroon, Ghana and Morocco (where the ManaGlobal project is taking place), which I believe have largely prevented the spread of the disease. The treatments adopted, influenced by the proposals of the university professor and director of the Institut Hospitalo-Universitaire Méditerranée Infection in Marseille, Didier Raoult, have helped to keep the number of deaths relatively low compared to the many deaths in Western countries. Senegal and also Morocco have adopted the protocol suggested by this controversial doctor in France where his treatment is only allowed for serious cases in hospitals. These serious cases show in the West certain common characteristics: advanced age beyond 65 years or even more, co-morbidities such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems etc.

However, the populations in the four countries where the ManaGlobal project is taking place are characterized by their youth and thus often healthier – despite poverty – than the serious cases in the West with high morbidity rates. The research found that children and adolescents are affected by relatively few cases of COVID 19 or – in case of contamination – they develop benign forms. Can it be concluded that the pandemic will instead have severe effects and high mortality rates in Western countries with different consumption patterns from those in the South and organisms exposed to very different food? The health effects of the pandemic in the South should certainly not be underestimated but the exposure to other pandemics such as malaria appears to protect African populations. Moreover, it seems to me that the limited rate of COVID-19 cases in China – although they are certainly underestimated for political reasons – gives a small glimmer of hope for the health consequences in the South, at least in Africa. The good choices made by doctors in several African countries in the face of the pandemic are compounded by the fact that the drugs proposed by Professor D. Raoult can be administered without the side effects expected in severely affected elderly patients in the West. Moreover, these are the medicines available in Africa (Sanofi Maroc) and known to the populations.

There remain the socio-economic consequences in countries characterized by populations often working in precarious and informal conditions. International and regional solidarity is beginning to be activated in the face of this situation, which exposes populations to famine and subsequently to hunger revolts that will not be long in coming if governments do not react. Confinement has not been applied in Cameroon but in Morocco; in Senegal, a curfew reigns at night in the face of populations who work during the day to meet their immediate needs. Wearing masks has been demanded in Cameroon, Morocco and Senegal and is being suggested in Ghana.

In conclusion, I would say that there is hope in the face of the health consequences of the pandemic in the countries of the South, at least in Africa. The socio-economic consequences are likely to be enormous in the face of countries of the North whose economies are at a standstill and whose importance for the socio-economic systems of African countries is well known.