A Virus Without Borders: “Is Africa Fully Prepared to Embrace the Fight against the Pandemic of the 21st Century?”


The Coronavirus commonly known as COVID-19 has waged a war without mercy and without borders. It has left mankind asking: where is the world heading?

By Mohamed Cherif Diallo Country Coordinator, UN Migration Agency – Liberia

This novel coronavirus disease, which has unleashed its fiery darts on humanity with corresponding casualties, has spared not even the most sophisticated and industrialized countries, the global super-powers, our own African continent and the rest of the world. Humanity at large is fighting for survival by taking precautionary measures such as frequent hand washing, wearing of face and nose masks, staying confined to their respective homes and observing social distancing rules. The pandemic has also resulted in a radical change in labor code with most personnel ordered by their entities to work from home, thanks to the power of modern technology.

This change in the mode of work has however led me asking, “can my continent (Africa) respond in the same manner as sophisticated affected G8 (industrialized) countries”? Africa and other developing countries continue to lag behind in the scale of response, as opposed to G8 countries. There is total lack of vital technological equipment including, ventilators to support victims with acute respiratory challenges. Moreover, there is lack of testing kits to identify potential cases, tracing them in order to isolate and treat them as a way of preventing this menace from totally saving our human resources and preventing our already ailing economies from completely crumbling.

Africans have entrenched cultures that they find almost impossible to alienate themselves from such as customary greetings involving bodily contacts, handshakes, wedding ceremonies, family visits, congregational worships on Sundays (Christians) and Fridays (Muslims). Sadly, however, these values have been overshadowed by an outbreak that knows no border, despite good news by doctors that 80% of those who contract the disease have greater chance of survival even without specialized medical treatment.

The severe respiratory syndrome – COVID-19 started in late 2019 in a Chinese province called Hubei. Wuhan, capital of Hubei was from the onset of the outbreak the epicenter before its massive transmission to the rest of the globe.

China has so far succeeded in containing and almost eliminating the disease and is now on the verge of gradually reopening the country for business following a successful battle against COVID-19. China had earlier put its total fatalities resulting from the pandemic at 3,339 but later admitted that the total death toll is actually 50% more than what was reported, especially from the epicenter of the outbreak then. Indeed, no country can claim victory after losing such a high number of its people at hands of a pandemic, especially considering that other countries around the world are still at war with the disease.

In the United States and most parts of Europe leading in death toll with COVID-19 – no one could have imagined in January this year (2020) that in this 21st century, an outbreak such as a flu could have taken such a huge toll in human lives without a world war or in civil wars. No one ever imagined this could have happened and no one ever imagine that an outbreak of such nature would have resulted in the shutting down of the streets of Manhattan, the beautiful beaches of Brazil, the exciting soccer stadiums of Europe, the Holy Kaaba in Saudi Arabia, the Vatican in Rome, schools and learning institutions, financial and insurance companies and almost everything around the world, forcing millions of people out of work and bringing the whole world to a standstill.

It was reported that in just 12 weeks, the outbreak had gone from an initially discrete outbreak to a raging pandemic. The COVID-19 outbreak has now affected over 212 countries and territories. As of April 20th, 2020, 2,425,437 confirmed COVID-19 cases were reported with 166,067 deaths. That is predicted to be just a tip of the iceberg, if precautionary measures are not put in place.

In its recent report, Africa CDC – a specialized agency of the 55-member African Union reported a total of 21,317 COVID-19 cases, and 1,080 deaths in 52 African countries. The most affected countries in Africa with the tallest snowballing number of cases – ratio of reported cases are Egypt (2,190; 14%), South Africa (2,272; 15%), Algeria (1,914; 13%), Cameroon (820; 5%), and Morocco (1,763; 12%).

Resources are being enlarged by the UN and many-sided development banks have already started to mobilize laboratory, surveillance and supplementary response backings including funds to address weak health capacity and the economic outcomes from the catastrophe. The G-20 leaders proposed $5 trillion to boost the world economy, even though it has not been well-defined as to how the most vulnerable states stand to benefit from this funding.

Although the United Nations and other multilateral development banks have stepped up to address the aftermaths of COVID-19, however, the crisis has adversely affected the United Nations engagement on funding for peace and resilience. The Coronavirus outbreak has not only brought government institutions to a brink of collapse, but its horrendous effects have imposed an extraordinary operational funding crisis at the United Nations. While major programs are said to be cancelled such as; meetings, negotiations and the all-important climate conference tabled for November 2020 and others due to financial underperformance, the world organization is working assiduously to prevent any wreck.

The UN Chief Management Officer’s memo stated that as of the end of March 2020, the world organization had faced serious debts $5.43 billion in its fees for regular operations and peacekeeping. In a worst-case scenario, even future payments through the year might not reach as arranged, hence tampering with the limited reserves of the United Nations, according to report. This signals that the United Nations is confronted with what Catherine Pollard described in her memo as “Liquidity Crisis” meaning the UN’s ability to pay for its operations and staff at large is challenged. This poses a serious challenge not only to war-torn countries, but also placed a huge financial constraint on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) vision 2030, for a poverty free continent.

Now, in an era of global travel, the response to the COVID-19 crisis once again brings to light the use of immigration restrictions to control the spread of disease, as well as bracing discussions on the rationale of such travel restrictions and possible unintended aftermaths. The outbreak has triggered much international anxiety, restrictions on air travel, and border security have become louder – pressing for a variety of stricter travel controls, including a complete travel ban, for those arriving from affected countries. Even though, there are billions of trips annually across international borders, the paradigm has shifted radically.

These restrictions have also put a complete halt irregular migration – the insatiable zest of young people from Low-Income countries, especially youths from West Africa seeking greener pastures to the USA, China, Italy, Spain and other European countries. It is becoming clearer that the notion that border and immigration controls can stop the spread of disease is outdated, as it is not only foreign nationals who pose a risk of spreading diseases. The Coronavirus has imposed on humanity indirect impacts too. It has severely disrupted social life and economic activities, with demanding effects on social cohesion and household livelihoods – the national economies in widespread, and its psychological blow has impaired feelings of helplessness.

How will Africa survive the epidemiology and maintain an economic stability for its citizens? The latent impact of the virus poses a real challenge to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty by 2030, and it is estimated that by the time the pandemic is over,  half of the world’s population of 7.8 billion could be living in poverty; as about 40% of the latest poor could be concentrated in East Asia and the Pacific, with about one third in both Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The World Bank’s biannual economic update has highlighted that the growth in sub-Saharan Africa has been considerably wedged by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak and is predicted to fall harshly from 2.4% in 2019 to 2.1, -2.1 to 5.1 in 2020 – seemingly, it stands out to be the first recession in the region over twenty-five years. Consequently, food imports would decline subsequently as much as 25% or as little as 13% due to the combination of higher transaction costs and reduced domestic demand, and it would cost a GDP loss in Africa of about 22.1 billion and 88.3 billion in the worst-case scenario. Besides, as infection rates rise, so does panic across financial markets, as economies drastically slow and supply chains severely disrupted as no nation up till present time by the crippling effects of the outbreak.

Analysis says that COVID-19 would cost the region between $37 billion and $79 billion in output losses for 2020 due to a combination of effects. They included trade and value chain disruption, which impacts commodity exporters and countries with strong value chain participation; reduced foreign financial flows from remittances, tourism, foreign direct investment, foreign aid, combined with capital flight; and through direct impacts on health systems, and disruptions caused by containment measures and the public response.

World Health Organization alongside other development partners is projecting that the Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan outline a funding need of at least US$675 million for critical response efforts in countries most in need of help through April 2020. This infers that as this outbreak evolves, funding needs are most likely to increase. It is however essential, for Africa to pay keen attention to the given dreadful impacts of COVID-19, assumed that such virus will very likely increase in frequency and gravity in the future.

Low-Income countries with surged corona cases where the number of patients presenting to the healthcare facilities with little or no medical equipment to detect the virus could intensify faster than the facilities are able to manage. Even patients admitted for other conditions, such as Tuberculosis (TB), Diabetes or labor, could be succumbed to co-existing with corona virus – and then infect several healthcare workers which makes it difficult to break the “chain of transmission”.

What systems should be put in place at local, regional and international levels to help prevent and alleviate the risk of future outbreaks including on the agricultural and food security sectors? The impact of a major disease outbreak on social cohesion, food security and nutrition through reduced agricultural activities in countries already affected by chronic food insecurity and malnutrition is also infrequently measured or underestimated and represents a double burden for populations facing both critical health conditions and unsteady access to nutritious and diversified sources of food.

What did we miss? Which lessons did we fail to learn from previous outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Influenzas, and other pathogens, that may have helped mitigate the dramatic situation we observed in Africa? The COVID-19 has ravaged many lives. It is clear to health personnel that COVID-19 has an uncontrollable tendency, and therefore, early identification and isolation are critical to containment.

The present death scale is a clear glimpse to the African nations, to increase swift early contact tracing mechanisms. The level of trust between the locals and their institutions should be established bereft of political sentiments tantamount to suspicion about the prevention messages that are circulated, and that governmental, and international agencies should as well partner with or engage Clinicians, Community Health Volunteers, faith leaders and Civil Society Organizations with previous Ebola experience, in the pandemic at cities and community levels.

Effective repression of this outbreak relies on prompt and effective coordination and communication across various interventions; early detection and response being critical to successful control. The use of information and communications technology in active surveillance will prove effective, but its use in Corona Virus outbreak response has been limited. Appropriate need for timeliness in reporting and communication for early discovery of new corona cases, contact tracing, and promptness in response is necessary to empower the response team members deployed in communities with technologies and solutions which would enable smooth and rapid data flow. This will also enable the tackling of misinformation to scale reliable health information.

Local community involvement: faith leaders or Faith Based Organizations are essential and should be helpful in any health crisis. The response of religious leaders and Community based organizations during 2014-16 Ebola outbreaks contributed an important role in the spread of prevention messages and healing process in West and Central Africa. This offered an important indication of the role that faith leaders or faith-based organizations, Civil Society Organizations, and Community Based Organizations played in providing a trusted link between communities, local and international relief workers. Therefore, is it essential to build upon the lessons of preceding epidemics as we support local efforts to prepare for, detect, and respond to the deadly COVID-19.

African leaders and their governments need to take up responsibilities to create enabling environments for their youthful populations; to share ownership of leadership roles and contribute to socio-economic development in their respective countries. The western countries whose governments could afford to provide basic amenities, such as prioritizing its human resources invested hugely in Science and Technology and created equal opportunities to maintain a steady flow in supply chains for basic needs and livelihoods, small businesses, employment opportunities, and access to markets for farmers. The growing number of jobless African youths particularly in post-war countries is a potential time-shell – may relapse as a result of socio-economic and political insecurity.  The concern is, that having large numbers of unskilled and dissatisfied young people with no hopes, aspirations or future may not be able to contribute to peace, security and development.

African governments and societies should encourage and support their best brains to stay and develop the continent. Africa has records of talented musicians, athletes, professors and doctors, and the world’s reality with COVD-19 has proven that when every country is affected, every citizen should depend on his or her country of origin, as no place like home to employ the efforts of all actors and sundry.

Hospitals with the aid of other health centers are cardinal to effective interventions aimed at achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There is great need for policy makers to guarantee that there are available, accessible and affordable health facilities provided in both urban and rural communities. Apart from the need for African countries to face-lift their health facilities, human resources for health are possibly the biggest challenge that face Africa in making access to healthcare a reality.

Research in several countries further indicates that, ‘underutilization of healthcare services itself is another major hinderance that prevents several public health interventions from having their intended impact – distance to healthcare providers, lack of information about health aspects, stigma associated with major forms of healthcare access, social economic, and political motivations and perceptions of health technologies by the society among many others. In most African countries, governments expenditures on health are extremely small and distortions caused by out-of-pocket expenditures to fund health needs tilt incentives of actors in the health system and impact upon how drugs are accessed by those who need it most’.

Meanwhile, collaboration remains central for innovation capacity specifically due to the highly inter – disciplinary nature of health innovation that mandates not just the presence of a strong knowledge base, but efficient exchanges between institutions. Investment in science and technology will play an important role in industrial development for the African continent; mainly in biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, because this kind of enterprise depends on the knowledge produced at universities and research institutions to develop technological innovations, according to McMillan et al.

Therefore, young people should be encouraged and supported to develop enthusiastic interest in basic and applied research, experimental development, metrology, hydrology studies, quality control, scientific and technological information, geological surveys, environmental surveys, trademarks and patents, and human resources training.

The major concern here is, if Africa must make an immeasurable impact on the fight against COVID-19, there is need to exhibit great solidarity, to fight the virus collectively despite the looming fear. Though most of the countries suffering a higher death toll are almost reaching at their peak of infection, the question is will Africa be less affected? By and large, this is a time for prayers and putting efforts and solidarity together to contain the virus and prevent unpredictable statistics of death toll. Governments and health institutions should take strict measures to control movement and encourage social distancing, even though it appears to be costly and difficult to enforce for people in an informal economy with the limited available means.                   

COVID-19 is a human tragedy that has engulfed the 21st Century is witnessing – a war without mercy that disregards, the rich, the poor, the powerful, the weak, the strong, the lazy; neither who can afford treatment nor who can’t afford, nor he/she that has the medical capacity or do not have the required medical capacity. What a human lesson that COVID-19 is portraying to humanity – The world should be without borders and every human being is born equal and opportunities should be shared equally. The catalyzing of rich and poor, developed and underdeveloped all wearing masks, washing hands and battling COVID-19 as a pandemic without borders. The solidarity is great, and the fear is looming. As most of the countries suffering a higher death toll are almost reaching their peak of infection, will Africa be less affected by this pandemic – by and large, this is time for prayers and putting efforts and solidarity together to contain the virus and prevent incalculable statistics of death toll. As tears were shed on the continent, the mourning of the deceased without an opportunity to pay them a last respect, the fear is universal. Governments and health institutions are taking measures to restrict movements and encouraging social distancing while trying to isolate suspected cases and caring for the infected with the limited available means. “Will a Virus Without Borders Leave Humanity Without Borders” ?