The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in Africa will probably look different from what has been observed in other parts of the world, as the continent's demographic is unique and different to other countries, according to a new publication by management consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
The report, titled 'Fighting Covid-19 in Africa Will Be Different', looks at how the young average age of the population in Africa is likely to be a positive factor, given that Covid-19 seems to be exacting a higher toll on older patients around the world.
Africa's relatively young population could help buffer the continent against the rates of severe cases and fatality observed elsewhere in the world.
For example, the report shines light on the fact that, as of February 11, more than 80% of Covid-19 deaths in China involved people 60 years old or older. In China, people in that age group account for 16% of the population, whereas in Africa they make up just 5% of the population.
Measures such as physical distancing may, however, be challenging owing to the African population's geography and population density, particularly in areas that have high levels of poverty, thereby leading to deaths in Africa being more likely concentrated among the malnourished, sick and poor.
"Covid-19 poses a major threat to Africa," says BCG MD and senior partner Patrick Dupoux, adding that all stakeholders (governments in Africa, global players and community leaders) must coordinate their efforts to prevent a worst-case scenario.
But other factors will create challenges: for instance, health systems in Africa struggle to meet current needs, let alone manage the spike in demand that a pandemic brings. For example, the most recent data available indicates that Ethiopia and Niger each have a hospital bed ratio of 0.3 beds for every 1 000 people, with Tunisia having a ratio of 2.3. Alternatively, Europe has an average of 5.6 beds for every 1 000 people.
Further adding severity to the situation is the significant numbers of adults in Africa having compromised immune systems, mostly owing to a high prevalence of HIV infection and HIV-tuberculosis co-infection. Many children also suffer from malnutrition. “Such factors could make those adults and children more susceptible to Covid-19,” according to the report.
BCG MD, partner and co-author of the report Shalini Unnikrishnan says that if the Covid-19 outbreak in Africa is not controlled, there will be far-reaching repercussions, including for the health of the people, the strength of the economy and the cohesiveness of society.
In terms of coordinating a response, the report suggests that all groups aiming to mount a response to the pandemic in Africa must learn from previous crises and align their efforts up front.
In this regard, the report posits that coordination needs to happen at three levels.
Firstly, governments in Africa are already working together, but they should redouble their efforts to cooperate by sharing data and capabilities and coordinating strategies. “Regional unions and the African Union can be powerful drivers of such cooperation.”
Secondly, worldwide groups working to support the pandemic response in Africa, including United Nations agencies, governments, donors, nongovernmental organisations and companies, need to coordinate a cohesive response.
Lastly, all players should involve community leaders in the process from the start in order to build trust and to ensure that people and communities understand and accept potentially challenging constraints.
“A lack of such coordination would lead to squandered resources and would reduce the strategies' effectiveness,” according to the report.