The time to act in Africa is now, before the pandemic peaks on the continent.

As the world continues to try and contain the global pandemic, Africa has been largely spared. But that is changing. 

In fact, many experts are warning that the continent is facing a looming Covid-19 crisis. Without question, the consequences of this disease spreading across Africa could be extremely devastating. 

Although the global pandemic has been slow to reach Africa, every country on the continent (except Lesotho, Comoros, and Sao Tome and Principe) has cases. 

Disturbingly, the number of cases continues rising across Africa. Within the continent, South Africa is the most coronavirus-infected with around 1,900 cases, and Egypt has the highest death toll, which has surpassed 100. 

With the world’s most under-resourced healthcare systems, malnutrition, other diseases (measles, malaria, diarrhoea, cholera, etc.), along with large swathes of ungoverned land, many African countries are extremely vulnerable to coronavirus. 

Most are in a weak position to cope with the disease should Covid-19 prove to be a time bomb waiting to explode across Africa. 

Given how much difficulty Italy, Spain, the United States, and other economically developed countries are having in terms of dealing with coronavirus, it is scary to think about what this pandemic could do to the world’s poorest continent, which is home to 1.2 billion people.

South Sudan, the latest African country to officially announce its first coronavirus case, is an example. For a country with 11 million citizens and only four ventilators, it is a gross understatement to say that South Sudan’s healthcare system lacks the resources required. 

Most African countries do not have any more than ten hospitals beds per 10,000 people, highlighting how difficult it will be for nations throughout the continent to cope.

Costs of conflict

Consequences of years of warfare in several African countries can play out in extremely negative ways in terms of Covid-19. Damaged infrastructure will make it harder for people to access healthcare facilities in areas which witness skyrocketing infection rates. 

Many in the West may forget that having the means to social distance amid this pandemic is a privilege. To be sure, this is not a privilege extended to most refugees and displaced persons across the world, let alone Africa. 

Struggling to overcome the South Sudanese Civil War (2013-2020), South Sudan has a high number of citizens displaced by violent conflict, and many of them are living in overcrowded sites with poor sanitary conditions. 

Sadly, South Sudan is not alone in this regard. Burkina Faso, Chad, Kenya, Nigeria, and other African countries are home to millions of refugees and displaced persons. 

When thinking about the hundreds of thousands of people living in Kenya’s Dadaab and Kakuma camps, it is easy to imagine how quickly the virus could spread given how closely these camps’ inhabitants live next to each other and how difficult it is for them to access soap and clean water. 

Ultimately, ongoing conflicts in Africa are even more dangerous to the security of the continent amid this pandemic. 

In the western part of Ethiopia’s Oromia Region, the government is waging a counterinsurgency, which prompted officials in Addis Ababa to shut down the internet and phone lines in this area of the country. 

Consequently, millions of Ethiopians were unable to acquire information about Covid-19 until their government restored access in western Oromia a week ago due to pressure from various groups who saw the cutting off of information about this pandemic to any part of Ethiopia as a threat to all citizens’ health and safety. 

Meanwhile, Libya’s civil war rages on despite coronavirus’ arrival to the country, meaning that Libyan resources will continue to be funnelled into the conflict instead of efforts aimed at dealing with the pandemic. 

Moreover, there is a credible risk of extremists such as Islamic State (Daesh) taking advantage of this pandemic in Libya to advance their hateful agendas. 

Already, General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) has taken advantage of the international community’s distractions to intensify its attacks on Tripoli despite calls from the UN for truces in all armed conflicts to help the world cope with this pandemic.

Travel Restrictions

In terms of travel restrictions, there are myriad challenges that will be particularly difficult to address in Africa. For example, as Human Rights Watch has warned, travel restrictions in South Sudan risk disrupting ongoing efforts to provide humanitarian relief, which also applies to other countries on the continent. 

Moreover, as the Council on Foreign Relations’ John Campbell recently wrote, “borders in Africa are porous, and the efficacy of travel restrictions in curbing the spread of the virus remains unclear.”

While many African countries are facing stagnant economic growth, the coronavirus threatens to impose enormous economic costs on the continent. Up to ten percent of Africa’s GDP is expected to be “wiped out” as a consequence of ongoing lockdowns in numerous countries. 

Lacking the resources to bail out their economies, these governments do not have the means to take care of their poorest citizens who are suffering, or at least will suffer, from job loss. 

For African daily wagers, it is difficult to exaggerate how dire their situations could become if coronavirus ravages their countries.

International community’s response

With nearly every African country reporting coronavirus cases, the continent is bracing for the pandemic to become more severe and quickly overwhelm Africa’s already weak public health and social welfare systems. 

The continent will suffer from major revenue losses, broken supply chains, and stunted economic growth. 

Undoubtedly, further actions taken by African leaders to contain this disease — on top of policies and measures already implemented such as bans on flights from certain countries, closing international borders, imposing lockdowns and curfews, etc. — will make a significant difference. Yet there is no denying that the international community has a role to play.

Covid-19 spiralling out of control in any country is a threat to all countries. 

States with extra resources that have managed to contain the spread of coronavirus within their borders must step up to help impoverished nations across the African continent trying to do the same, especially before it is too late. 

Otherwise, the virus will be able to continue spreading across the world, recognising no international boundaries between countries. 

Amid this unprecedented global crisis, international state and non-state actors must find new ways to cooperate in a struggle against a common enemy that continues spreading death in all corners of the world.

In 2011, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke before the UN General Assembly about Somalia and the lack of support which it received from wealthier countries during times of tragedy. 

“The international community is watching the suffering in Somalia like a movie. However, we should urgently face this situation which is a test to our humanity. The tragedy of Somalia, where tens of thousands of children died due to the lack of even a piece of bread and a drop of water, is a shame for the international community.” 

Today, the Covid-19 crisis allows the international community to make up for its past record of failing to do enough not only for Somalia but the African continent at large. Doing so would be not only in the interest of Africans, but of all humanity.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to opinion.editorial@trtworld.com