Early in the pandemic days, there was a good deal of gloomy prophesying about what would happen when the novel coronavirus hit Africa, predicting that the looming health emergency would cripple a continent in which many countries are experiencing high rates of poverty. There were calls for an influx of aid and loans to African countries bracing for the impact of a COVID-19 “time bomb.”
But as it turns out, the nations of sub-Saharan Africa have so far skillfully outmaneuvered the coronavirus. For example, Liberia has around five million people, but only 82 COVID-19-related deaths. Senegal has about sixteen million people, but only 302 registered deaths. There are twelve million people in Rwanda, but only 26 deaths. Much is unknown about how COVID-19 works and no nation is out of the woods yet but, so far, African nations have avoided the nightmare scenarios.
There are a few possible reasons why, as Karen Attiah writes at the Washington Post. One is experience. Many African countries have experienced serious outbreaks of infectious diseases in the past, and still have solid infrastructures in place for dealing with resurgences that were easily adapted to the COVID-19 era. Liberia started screening passengers at airports early and quarantined passengers from nations that had seen outbreaks. Senegal already had rigorous contact tracing protocols set up to deal with the Ebola outbreaks, and was able to offer a hospital bed or similar facility to anyone who tested positive. In Rwanda, testing and treatment for COVID-19 is free.
As Attiah notes, it’s not all good news. Police in Kenya killed fifteen citizens while enforcing pandemic-era curfew restrictions.
But the success stories are significant, especially when put up against the international context. Across the globe, the U.S. is facing record low public approval ratings, particularly regarding its bungled response to the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. has become the grim epicenter of the pandemic, crossing the sad milestone of 200,000 COVID-related deaths this week. Of the thirteen nations surveyed by Pew Research, all ranked the U.S. COVID-19 response lowest globally, with the responses from the EU and the World Health Organization getting the highest marks. On average, just fifteen percent said the U.S. had done a good job, compared to 64 percent for WHO, 57 percent for the EU and 37 percent for China.