Can African Countries Continue to Fend Off the Worst of COVID-19?

Can African Countries Continue to Fend Off the Worst of COVID-19?
A boy wearing a mask walks past a mural warning people about the coronavirus, Nairobi, Kenya, April 18, 2020 (AP photo by Brian Inganga).

A recent survey by Reuters found that across Africa, there is less than one intensive care bed per 100,000 people. The continent’s three most populous countries—Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt—only have 1,920 intensive care beds to service more than 400 million people between them. Just two countries, South Africa and Ghana, accounted for 46 percent of all tests carried out in Africa as of May 7. As recently as April 17, 10 countries in Africa did not possess any ventilators at all, according to the World Health Organization, and just 2,000 ventilators were spread across 41 countries home to hundreds of millions of people.

These statistics suggest that much of Africa risks being devastated by an uncontrolled outbreak of the coronavirus. While the continent has avoided a worst-case scenario so far, whether it can continue to will depend on the steps national governments and international organizations take in the weeks and months ahead.

African countries have collectively reported nearly 75,000 cases of COVID-19 as of May 14, with about 2,500 dead from the disease. These numbers represent a small fraction of global totals, but low testing capacity, as well as discrepancies in data collection and low levels of transparency on the part of many governments, make it nearly impossible to know the true scope of the spread throughout Africa.

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