May 21, 2020
In our Newsletter Vol.1 Iss.2, on April 27th, we shared our own first summaries of good news about how African countries have handled their response to COVID-19 and how the resulting impact so far had been more moderate than other regions. Now, an excellent article published this week by New Yorker magazine takes a more in-depth look at how Africa’s adept management has continued to set it apart. In our original analysis we both sung the praises of the early policy responses as well as addressing other possible reasons for Africa’s relatively mild impact. For example, yes, much of Africa is more temperate, and temperate climates in the southern hemisphere can respond more mildly to some common ailments such as flu or cold. Yes, Africa is also a very young continent, where the median age is about 20, and yes, there may be more widespread, partial immunity or resistance from exposure to diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. None of that, however, belies the fact that Africa’s quick and efficient response has simply been phenomenally better than it has in most of the West.
In Ethiopia, for example, the 5 million person capital city of Addis Ababa was locked down and a door-to-door survey completed in less than 3 weeks. Testing, surveying and contact tracing were pursued quickly and aggressively, so that governments and the medical communities would truly know what the metrics of the disease and its transmission were and be able to act swiftly at the key sources of spread before they got out of hand. In short, Africa has faced epidemics before, and it takes both the preparation and the preventative response seriously—they have studied the manuals, trained personnel, and put all of that knowledge to work quickly when needed. By locking down and gathering data quickly, they have been able to manage the situation instead of trying to chase a runaway train.
The same procedural knowledge on pandemics exists in the US as in Africa, and so you can’t help but conclude that it seems partially due to arrogance that the West has endured such high infection and death rates. In fact, it is Western organizations such as American’s own CDC that helped to create many of the guidelines while assisting to contain previous outbreaks alongside African nations, such as Ebola. However an attitude of “it could never happen here” all too often prevails in these circumstances, and is often accompanied by a refusal to seek outside help, innovations, or positive examples that could be emulated.
None of this is to say that Africa is entirely out of the woods yet—in fact we are all very much still quite in the middle of this, even as we cautiously prepare for reopening. African leaders themselves caution against too much early optimism, and continue to keep their heads down and follow the science and its related prescriptions. As we move forward though, both in terms of overcoming COVID-19 and in general as a global community and economy, we would do well to listen, learn and embrace the ideas of our diligent African neighbors more often. Africa has plenty of success stories to share, too.
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