African governments are responding to COVID-19 just like every other nation — closing borders, stopping air travel, closing ports, promoting social distancing. But, due to low testing capacity and under-resourced health systems, Africa faces the same dilemma as the U.S. — too little, too late.
Community transmission is already occurring in most African capital cities, and it will rapidly move to smaller towns as people start to leave the cities for the countryside as the economies shut down and movement restrictions are put into place.
We anticipate that African countries are going to be hit very hard by COVID-19. Health care workers all over Africa will be identifying and treating cases with no gloves, no masks, no training and no medical equipment. Intensive care units rarely exist outside of capital cities, and medical specialists to run them are even rarer.
There will be no specialty care available for the majority of Africans.
Normally the international community would parachute in with hospital tents, medical workers and planes full of supplies. That is unlikely to happen this time — at least not on a magnitude of what will be needed. Africa’s underdeveloped health systems are going to be largely on their own, left to face the incredible burden of coronavirus on top of already unmet demands for skilled deliveries and care for malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, noncommunicable diseases and more.
Tonight, over most of Africa, no planes are flying. Commercial flights have been halted at the request of African governments. At the moment when we need to move people and supplies towards African capitals, there is no way in, and there are no supplies for them. In many parts of Africa and elsewhere, this pandemic will move through communities without any access to modern medicine. The human toll is going to be high.