Overlooked Successful African COVID-19 Responses
Updated: Jul 24, 2020
Arriving relatively late to Africa, COVID-19 will set many public systems back, drastically,- an estimate says the continent will lose up to a decade of progress. Following suit to developed countries around the world, African countries have introduced lockdowns, curfews and cessations of movement to combat the spread of the coronavirus, however it is imperative to consider that policies must be designed differently for the countries that are undergoing economic transformation. Without the access to expensive pharma products coupled with a consistent need for primary healthcare services, necessity has proved to be the mother of invention, especially during the pandemic.
In Madagascar, a traditional herbal remedy consisting of Artemisia annua (aka sweet wormwood) was quickly discounted as soon as Madagascar President Andry Rajoelina claimed that it was a cure for COVID-19. As trials were conducted by WHO and the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Germany, Professor Peter Seeberger (the director of the Institute) mentioned that, “the reason you probably haven’t heard about this is because of patronising attitudes towards African innovation. If it was a European country that has actually discovered this remedy, would there be so much doubt? I don’t think so.” The scientists will be the ones to prove or disprove the hypothesis that the cure will actually work, however innovative African strategies cannot and will not be discounted on the sole premise that they are not from the West.
A pandemic like no other, engulfed in the sphere of rapid information dissemination, in stemming the spread of the coronavirus across the world misjudgements and mistakes have been made, African nations are no exception. As the future of the pandemic remains uncertain, the degree of certainty behind every policy decision is undermined. Most countries across the African continent have already ruled out the main approach of the West; expensive, large- scale mass testing and hospitalisation will not prove successful here. Instead, pioneers and champions in the African healthcare sector have worked to innovate, create and implement suitable strategies to save the health sector from the grave possibility of a devastating regression.
As I searched for African panellists to kick- off webinars for the Africa Healthcare Federation, my interest was piqued as I noticed creative minds using COVID-19 as an opportunity to transform the future of African health. I found that in March, a coalition of Senagalese scientists working from the Institut Pasteur de Dakar collaborated with Mologic (U.K. biotech firm) to create a $1 test that can deliver results in 10 minutes, $60 ventilator and engineering students built a medical robot to lessen the load on healthcare workers. In Ghana, a system of ‘pool testing’- wherein multiple blood samples are tested and thereafter followed up as individual tests only if positive result is found- is being silently
analysed by the WHO. Additionally, Ghana has produced an affordable, low- cost COVID-19 antibody test that is in the regulatory phase. In Kenya, I have seen factories switching their factors of production to manufacturing masks and PPE. In Rwanda, remarkable artificial intelligence and robots are being used for COVID-19 screening as a part of the country’s plan to identify every single case of the virus.
These few success stories prove that work in Africa has not only progressed, but it has also unlocked keys to future self- sufficiency despite infrastructural and capital limitations. Sustainable and contextual solutions that mitigate the disastrous impact that COVID-19 in Africa must be celebrated on the global stage.