Intended for healthcare professionals


How Africa has tackled covid-19

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: (Published 16 July 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m2830

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  1. Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla, freelance journalist
  1. Johannesburg, South Africa
  1. bb.aisha{at}

Five months since its first covid-19 infection, Africa seems to have been spared the brunt of the pandemic. But with weak healthcare systems, strategies are fuelled by constant vigilance and fear, writes Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla

It took 90 days for Africa, with 54 countries, to reach 100 000 cases, but just 19 more days to double to 200 000 cases, and another 12 days to reach 300 000. By 8 July it rose to 500 000 and 12 000 deaths. Though the number of cases on the continent is rising rapidly at an average of 11 000 per day, the figures belie a story of ongoing anxiety but also relief.

The World Health Organization says that cases have more than doubled in 22 countries in the region over the past month, but case numbers are lower than predicted and there is no indication that severe infections and deaths are being missed.

Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, and South Africa make up 71% of covid-19 cases, with South Africa alone accounting for 43% of the continent’s total cases (see box).

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa, warned that “the pace of the spread is quickening. Swift and early action by African countries has helped to keep the numbers low, but constant vigilance is needed to stop covid-19 from overwhelming health facilities.”

Capacity lacking

For decades, African governments have failed to prioritise health systems, something keenly felt during epidemics like Ebola, and now covid-19.

In April, WHO reported that there were just 2000 ventilators across 41 African countries and 5000 intensive care beds across 43. A June report by Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) also warned that “most countries face a catastrophic shortage of medical professionals.” The sub-Saharan region has 0.2 doctors for every 1000 people according to World Bank data—well below the global average of 1.6 …

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