The African continent has not been one of the areas hardest hit by COVID-19, but that is beginning to change. On March 25, The Guardian reported 2,400 confirmed cases and 60 reported deaths in 43 countries on the African continent. A large number of these cases (709 as of March 25) are in South Africa. (5)
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Behind the Numbers - COVID-19 on the African Continent
Some have pointed out demographics specific to African countries that may help keep the number of deaths relatively low. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the average age is the lowest in the world with only 3% of the population older than 65. (6) It has been reported that older adults are most at risk of dying after contracting the virus.
Some scientists have also hypothesized that high temperatures may be keeping the virus at bay with the number of infected still relatively low. (6)
Still, a number of other factors cause worry that this is simply the calm before a colossal African storm. First, substandard health care systems could exacerbate a crisis. This includes a shortage of hospital beds, lack of access to disinfectant as well as the personal protective equipment that is in scant supply elsewhere around the world. In addition, health care workers are not always well trained in protecting themselves by using this equipment. Finally, many of the health care systems are not digitized which will likely lead to an ineffective sharing of data. (3)
Many African countries face other challenges that could further stress the system. While social distancing has become a worldwide mantra, it is easier said than done in Africa’s overcrowded cities and slums. In addition, an informal economy is the norm in many spots. People must go out every day in order to simply feed themselves and their families.
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Poor sanitation may also worsen conditions. Of Sub-Saharan healthcare facilities, 42% lack an improved water source in close proximity, 16% lack improved sanitation and 36% lack soap for handwashing. (7) Many households also lack improved water sources as well as the hygienic practices that help prevent community spread of the virus. In the 38 countries for which data is available, handwashing prevalence was at approximately 50% before the crisis began. (8)
Also of concern is the high rate of HIV-AIDS on the African continent. In 2018, 25.7 million people in Africa were living with HIV. Approximately 1.1 million people were newly infected by HIV in 2018, nearly two-thirds of the global total. (9) In addition to HIV, many areas are also battling cholera, malaria and tuberculosis outbreaks. The COVID-19 high-risk pool on the African continent is a mixed story with a smaller than average group of older adults but a larger than average number of vulnerable individuals due to illness and disease.
A Closer Look at Tanzania
Following the first confirmed case of COVID-19, the Tanzanian government announced a series of actions to stem the spread. On March 17, President John Magufuli closed schools for 30 days across the country and suspended all sporting events. On March 23, travel restrictions were put in place. This included mandatory isolation for 14 days at designated facilities for those travelers arriving from the world’s most affected countries. All travelers are also ordered to undergo intensive screening upon entering the country, and advisories were given to all residing in Tanzania to avoid non-essential travel. (2)
More recently, President Magufuli made controversial statements encouraging Tanzanians to continue visiting places of worship. In response, the opposition party called on the government to ban all public gatherings and close the country’s borders. (1)
Tanzania reported 12 cases of COVID-19 as of March 23. (1)
Saving Grace School Continues to Track and Care for Students
While Grace and the other teachers at Saving Grace School adhere to social distancing guidelines and stay at home as much as possible, they attempt to remain in contact with school families to ensure that the students have remained healthy. To the best of its ability, Brighter Tanzania Foundation plans to cover costs associated with any student hospitalizations.
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The school lunch program continues during this time of crisis. After the school was closed, teachers visited families to notify them that students can come to the school during predetermined times for a meal. Students eat at the school in groups of five, staggered throughout the day. The teachers make certain that children wash their hands before and after their meal and sanitize the eating area after one group of students leaves and before another enters.
For updates on Saving Grace School during the Coronavirus crisis, visit us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter @BrighterTZFund.