Africa receives praise for responding better than some richer countries, including the United States. According to Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah “It is clear that we must find an African solution to our problems, and that this can only be found in African unity.”
While the U.S. surpassed 200,000 COVID-19 deaths and the world approaches 1 million, Africa’s surge has been leveling off. Its 1.4 million confirmed cases are far from the horrors predicted. Antibody testing is expected to show many more infections, but most cases are asymptomatic. Just over 34,000 deaths are confirmed on the continent of 1.3 billion people.
Although, experts caution that data collection in many African countries is incomplete, “Africa is doing a lot of things right the rest of the world isn’t,” said Gayle Smith, a former administrator with the U.S. Agency for International Development. She’s watched in astonishment as Washington looks inward instead of leading the world. But Africa “is a great story and one that needs to be told.”
Early modeling assumed “a large number of Africans would just die,” he said. Health experts point to Africa’s youthful population as a factor in why COVID-19 hasn’t taken a larger toll, along with swift lockdowns and the later arrival of the virus.
Africa’s public and private sectors created an online purchasing platform to focus their negotiating power, launched by the African Union to buy directly from manufacturers. Governments can browse and buy rapid testing kits, N95 masks, and ventilators, some now manufactured in Africa in another campaign endorsed by heads of state. “It’s the only part of the world I’m aware of that actually built a supply chain,” said Smith, the former USAID chief.
When the pandemic began, just two African countries could test for the coronavirus. Now all can. Nkengasong was struck by how much information “doesn’t get translated” to member states, so the Africa CDC holds online training on everything from safely handling bodies to genomic surveillance.
“I look at Africa and I look at the U.S., and I’m more optimistic about Africa, to be honest, because of the leadership there and doing their best despite limited resources,” said Sema Sgaier, director of the Surgo Foundation, which produced a COVID-19 vulnerability index for each region.