Africa’s Efforts to Avoid Becoming an Epicenter of COVID-19

In the early days of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) experts warned Africa could become the next epicenter of the pandemic. It estimated one-quarter of a billion coronavirus potential cases and 150,000 potential deaths within a year. For a continent with over 1.2 billion people, such predictions are quite alarming considering the socio-economic impact it could have on a continent already facing major economic and health challenges.

“COVID-19 has the potential not only to cause thousands of deaths but to also unleash economic and social devastation. Its spread beyond major cities means the opening of a new front in our fight against this virus,” warned Dr. Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.

While these warnings are to be considered, it is worth noting that although Africa is the world’s second-largest continent, it is also the second WHO region with the least amount of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Across the world, at least 25,602,665 people have been infected and more than 852,758 have lost their lives to the COVID-19, according to WHO. In Africa, 1,061,462 people have been infected and 22,195 have lost their lives to the virus, according to WHO. That represents roughly 3% of the confirmed cases and 2% of deaths of the global coronavirus cases.

As coronavirus cases grew, many African countries sought to develop strategies and methods for the prevention and management of COVID-19. From concocting purported traditional medicinal tonics to acquiring state-of-the-art medical equipment, and adapting response strategies to their context until a COVID-19 vaccine is available.

“This requires a decentralized response, which is tailored to the local context. Communities need to be empowered, and provincial and district levels of government need to ensure they have the resources and expertise to respond to outbreaks locally,” warned Dr. Moeti.

Preparedness and Responsiveness

Many factors contribute to Africa’s statistics. One of them is the late arrival of the outbreak to the continent. The first confirmed case emerged in Egypt in mid-February and the world’s first confirmed case could be traced back as far as November in China. This gave African governments a bit of time to take appropriate actions to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Another determining factor is Africa’s extensive experiences in epidemics and infectious diseases. Nigeria is one of the few countries with a successful 2014 Ebola outbreak response. So when faced with the urgency of the coronavirus pandemic, Nigeria displayed critical health preparedness and responsiveness. The government set up 23 public health emergency operations centers across the country to accommodate its population of more than 206 million people. By having healthcare workers knowledgeable in infectious disease management implement lessons learned to the novel coronavirus disease, it enabled for better responsiveness such as patient isolation and contact tracing. Additionally, Nigeria’s government response strategies included various COVID-19 marketing campaigns to reduce social stigma as a barrier to testing and a “COVID-19 Heroes” campaign to honor COVID-19 survivors as heroes.

As of September 2, Nigeria has recorded at least 54,247 COVID-19 cases, including 1,023 fatalities, according to WHO.

Miracle Herbal Tonic

While the rest of the world races to find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, Africa relies on alternative medicine to boost immunity. For many centuries, traditional medicine has always been appreciated by Africans due to the potency of its large diversity of medicinal plants. So on April 20 when the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research unveiled a miracle herbal tonic called Covid-Organics (CVO), it was naturally well-received across the continent. Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina even became a great advocate of the purported miracle herbal tonic and praised its preventive and curative potential to combat COVID-19.

In an exclusive televised interview given to France 24 and RFI (Radio France Internationale), President Rajoelina kept the complete list of ingredients of the herbal tonic a secret but hinted at Artemisia annua (sweet wormwood) as a key ingredient. “It works really well,” said President Andry Rajoelina of Covid-Organics. Despite the lack of clinical evidence on the effectiveness of the medicinal plants used in Covid-Organics as potential COVID-19 treatments, Artemisia annua has been proven to be effective in the treatment of malaria, inflammation, and fever.

Thanks to President Rajoelina’s public endorsement of the organic herbal concoction and Artemisia annua, WHO is offering its support for clinical studies of traditional medicine for potential treatments for COVID-19. “WHO is working with research institutions to select traditional medicine products which can be investigated for clinical efficacy and safety for COVID-19 treatment. In addition, the Organization will continue to support countries as they explore the role of traditional health practitioners in prevention, control, and early detection of the virus as well as case referral to health facilities.”

Even with the world skepticism and Covid-Organics not meeting international standards to be approved as a COVID-19 treatment, African countries like Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and Senegal acquired the “miracle tonic” and many others continue to place orders.

As of September 2, Madagascar has recorded over 14,957 cases, including 195 fatalities, according to WHO.

Imposed Quarantine Order

As countries began to open borders, many imposed quarantine for all arriving passengers to minimize the transmission of COVID-19 to the rest of the population. When Ethiopia’s flag carrier Ethiopian Airlines resumed flights to Addis Ababa, it required all arriving passengers to present negative COVID-19 test results no older than 72 hours to self-isolate at home. Passengers without positive test results were imposed a 14-day quarantine at a designated hotel at their own expense.

As an additional preventive measure, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Innovation and Technology announced in a joint press statement that traditional medicine experts will combine modern and traditional medicine to develop a COVID-19 treatment drug that will boost immunity. This is another indicator of Africa’s great belief in traditional medicine.

As of September 2, Ethiopia has recorded 53,304 COVID-19 cases, including 828 deaths, according to WHO. Considering the country’s population of over 115 million, the coronavirus cases and deaths are relatively low.


Since the outbreak, the demand for automation has significantly increased. Software engineers and developers everywhere are using their ingenuity to design anti-pandemic robots to help fight the coronavirus and minimize human contact between COVID-19 patients and medical staff.

Rwanda and Gabon are two African nations to show impressive progressiveness. Each is deploying high-tech equipment as part of their fight against the spread of the pandemic.

Rwanda received its high-tech robots as a donation from The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and transferred the robots to the Kanyinya COVID-19 treatment facility in Kigali to monitor and assess patients’ body temperature. The country also uses high-tech drones with cameras to provide COVID-19 awareness messages in high-risk areas. The drones also monitor residents’ attitudes and behaviors towards COVID-19 orders and help local authorities enforce rules if they are not respected.

As of September 2, Rwanda has recorded over 4,142 COVID-19 cases, including 16 deaths, according to WHO.

Gabon’s progressive response includes building a state-of-the-art screening laboratory with a capacity of up to 10,000 tests per day. Located in the arena Le Palais des Sports de Libreville, the laboratory uses the latest technology to rapidly screen and triage patients. For a small country with over 2.2 million people, such necessary measures help quickly minimize the spread of COVID-19.

As of September 2, Gabon has recorded at least 8,533 cases of COVID-19, including more than 53 deaths, according to WHO.

Far from Becoming an Epicenter of COVID-19

When comparing COVID-19 numbers in Africa to other continents, there is a great indication that Africa is far from becoming an epicenter of COVID-19 as previously forecasted by the World Health Organization. Even with cases rising, the coronavirus appears to be less deadly in Africa.

While there isn’t any scientific method to accurately predict how the novel coronavirus will behave in the future, it’s ironic how the continent with some of the world’s weakest health systems has one of the least numbers of coronavirus cases and the highest recovery rate. Rather than becoming another statistic, Africa is showing the world that epidemic preparedness is crucial when an outbreak like COVID-19 occurs and forever changes everything. For the impact COVID-19 has on everyday life, it is clearly a must for every country in the world regardless of the quality of its health system to implement a system for public health emergency preparedness and outbreak response.