The coronavirus as we know it was first identified in the early 1960’s with symptoms, primarily being upper respiratory tract infections, particularly in children. As the world rallies behind the COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus, which came out of the Chinese province of Hubei, the city of Wuhan in December 2019 (the epicenter of the outbreak), and attempts are being made by relevant stakeholders (WHO) , private sector and governments to diminish the spread of the disease, its impact on the global economy is undoubtedly being felt.
Key points of interest on the epidemic
Pharmaceutical companies are rallying behind to develop alternative vaccines, drugs, and treatments for the disease. As they race to cash in on the growing epidemic and aid in its eradication, governments, researchers and analysts continue to closely monitor varying alternatives to reduce the potential spread of the disease, as well as protect borders. In China (as of 27th February, 2020: WHO data), approximately 78,497 cases have been reported, with a reported 2,744 dead. It is reported that the disease is transmitted through close contact and proximity with an infected person. A potential cause of the transition has been through human-to-human and largely occurring in Chinese families.
To guard against this, an initially proposed intervention to reduce human contacts and transmission of the disease, was aggressive isolation of infected persons and social distancing. This strategy, however, has proven to be effective to some extent. But as a result of the length of time it takes for the disease to manifest, it becomes difficult to identify the symptoms at an initial stage and for this reason, basically proven difficult to control the disease. WHO has identified two (2) transmission mechanisms of the disease (which has now been declared a global epidemic): (a) transmission in health care settings and among health care workers (b) transmission in closed settings.
With the global toll of the disease increasing and spreading to other countries beyond control, concerns being raised by the international community are; if countries are prepared, in human and logistical capacities. In Africa, to be precise, a few governments have taken necessary steps to guard their borders and visitors entering the country by undertaking screening and quarantine activities at the airports and all other points of entry. But the majority of African countries are unprepared, logistically and in human resources (health care workers and volunteers). Financial support also plays in a key role in the unpreparedness of African governments.
Impact on Africa
African students in China, particularly Wuhan, have been under lockdown, as the situation continues to deteriorate. They have made endless calls on their respective countries for eradication but governments are reluctant to heeding to these calls as a result of unpreparedness and capacity to handle the epidemic. However, some initiatives have been undertaken by NGO’s, predominantly, the Organization for Leadership and Strategy Development (OLSD), to send relief items to the over 5,000 African students stranded in the health war zone and lockdown. Through this NGO, a substantial number of face masks, drugs, and other essential relief items have been sent to these students, to beef up support and reiterate the call that they have not been left alone in these trying times. However, calls are being made to other humanitarian organizations and governments to send relief items. Through this laudable initiative of OLSD, a Humanitarian Crisis Respond Fund is being set up to support epidemics such as this.
The global economy is also feeling the robust impact this crisis may have on development and growth globally. The World Bank has downgraded its projected world economic outlook, for which some, of the global economic downturns that are going to hit the African continent heavily are:
- the country at the epicenter of the epidemic’s economic growth has been projected to dip to 4.5% from an initial projection of 6% in the first quarter of 2020 (Reuters).
- a fall in the prices of global oil demand on the international markets by the coronavirus, as reported by the International Energy Agency.
- some companies, operating inside China, like Apple, Hyundai and Nissan, are bound to shut down their factories as a result of the slowdown in the frequent flows of manufactured products to other parts of the world, inevitably reducing exports drastically (WEF).
Private businesses are also recounting a substantial loss in revenues due to the lockdowns across cities in China. Supply chains have largely been disrupted.
African countries are projected to be the hardest hit on these fronts because Africa’s trade volume with China is huge and this could disrupt economic activities on the continent and may not pick up quickly, long after the disease eventually gets under control.
In Africa, there is an urgency for countries to start preparing ferociously, as some have already recorded cases of the disease.
Amongst other numerous suggestions on personal hygiene, one thing that is evident, which could trigger transmissions in Africa is our fanfares and admirations for social gathering activities and events. It is commonplace in Africa during funerals, weddings, child naming ceremonies, church activities, etc, to find huge numbers of people turning up. This, nonetheless, is a cultural practice, which inevitably, needs to be reduced drastically to prevent human-to-human transmissions of the outbreak.
Going forward, governments and leaders within Africa must, as a matter of urgency and from a public policy standpoint, indicate the veracity of the outbreak and put measures in place to forestall the spread of the disease. Key point to note, is the poor infrastructural deficit in African countries. These allows for people living and working within close proximity. More so, majority of cities within the continent are over populated and this causes overcrowding in most places, which sets the basis for easy transmission. For instance, public transports in most African nations encourages close contacts amongst commuters, which hitherto, can easily lead to a substantial human-to-human spread of the coronavirus. To prevent this menace, governments must continue to intensify public discourse and engagements, whereby in large crowds, mention must always and regularly be made of the preventive mechanisms of hand washing, using tissues instead of handkerchiefs for coughs and wearing protective masks. Also, Health Authorities can print and disseminate fliers in populated spaces (in readable languages) like markets, churches, funerals, public transports and other gatherings (child naming ceremonies and weddings), to raise public awareness and prevention. Print and social media must intensify efforts to promote the knowledge of the virus. In as much as these efforts may create some degree of panic and fear among people, it is highly an efficient and recommended practice to prevent the lose of human lives.