• Reported data reflect a milder regional impact compared with other parts of the world.
  • But serious concerns remain regarding food security and the potential for a significant death toll.

COVID-19 hasn't had the same the sort of devastating impact on Africa as it has elsewhere, according to official statistics. That may not last.

Experts warn that the pandemic could yet exact a much heavier death toll in the region if it overwhelms local health services. And there are fears that it may cause famine in combination with the drought and conflict already affecting much of Africa – which is home to more than half of the 135 million acutely food-insecure people in crisis in the world, according to a UN report.

Some have worried that relatively weak health systems and patchy testing enabled COVID-19 to progress through Sub-Saharan Africa without fully registering in reported data. The official figures to date locate much of the pandemic’s regional burden in places like South Africa, which has reported nearly 5,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and recently deployed hundreds of Cuban doctors to help fight its impact, and Cameroon – which has reported more than 1,800 confirmed cases and launched nationwide testing earlier this month. Two countries in the region, Lesotho and Comoros, have yet to officially report any cases, much less related deaths.

Image: World Economic Forum

Even as some anticipate worse yet to come for Africa, countries there are making plans to ease coronavirus-related measures. Nigeria, the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to report a confirmed case of COVID-19, in late February, has since seen its number of reported cases grow to more than 1,500. Yet, the country has announced plans to start easing lockdown restrictions in some major cities on 4 May.

Spread of COVID-19 in Africa.
Spread of COVID-19 in Africa: The growth in reported cases over time in Nigeria and other countries in the WHO's African Region are illustrated by the expanding dots.
Image: World Economic Forum

Despite the pessimistic estimates for the region's future, the relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths still being reported in Africa have raised hopes that it has been spared from the worst of the pandemic. Some even speculate that lessons learned from incidents like the 2014 Ebola outbreak have helped it to weather the storm.

For more context, here are links to further reading from the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform:

  • COVID-19 arrives as food security in southern Africa was already threatened by the most severe drought in decades, and as a second wave of vegetation-consuming desert locusts descend on eastern Africa, according to this report. (Brookings Institution)
  • In a place like Uganda, where people of all ages die in large numbers and often from pneumonia or unknown causes, it can be difficult to measure the local impact of the pandemic, according to this analysis. (LSE)
  • The collapse of global cooperation has shoved Africa out of the diagnostics market, and its lack of hospitals combined with a high prevalence of HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and malnutrition could lead to relatively high COVID-19 mortality rates, according to the director of the Africa CDC. (Nature)
  • One victim of the pandemic may be the print newspapers that are often at the forefront of accountability journalism in most African countries, according to this analysis by a journalist from Botswana. (Global Investigative Journalism Network)
  • Despite ample notice about the arrival of the coronavirus, Africa’s governments did little to prepare themselves, their systems, or their people, according to this former chair of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria. (The New Humanitarian)
  • Some Africans may be suffering indirectly from the impact of COVID-19 while abroad – in early April, images and video emerged of Africans in Guangzhou, China, being subjected to passport seizures and arbitrary quarantine, according to this report. (The Diplomat)
  • Africa has undergone an incredible journey to make routine immunization possible, though immunization coverage in sub-Saharan Africa has stalled at 72%. Now, COVID-19 presents a further threat to progress, according to this analysis. (New African)

On the Strategic Intelligence platform, you can find visualizations and feeds of expert analysis related to COVID-19, Africa and hundreds of additional topics. You’ll need to register to view.

Image: World Economic Forum