Africa is managing COVID-19 very well so far

The Cooperative Society Newsletter
July 2020, Issue 23
by E.G. Nadeau

Why an article on the coronavirus in Africa? Two reasons: I have spent much of my 50-year co-op career living and working in about 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, so I have a personal interest. Secondly, there is not a lot written in the Western press about the impact of coronavirus on the continent, and much of that is ill-informed.

Slogging through the morass of data and conflicting projections of the impact of the coronavirus on deaths, poverty, and hunger in Africa is a daunting task. This is a brief report of some findings.

Here is what we know, or think we know, about the impact to-date of the virus on this continent of 54 countries and 1.3 billion inhabitants – a population that exceeds that of Europe and North America combined.

  • As of July 27, there were almost 850,000 cases of the virus and almost 18,000 deaths attributed to it in Africa.* (The State of New York alone has almost 33,000 coronavirus deaths – approaching twice the number for all of Africa.) The level of infection in Africa is far less than many international organizations projected back in April. For example, one UN report stated that there could be up to 3.3 million deaths within a year.
    * Note that some observers believe that Africa’s cases and deaths are being undercounted.
  • Those deaths still may happen, but it is highly unlikely given the current trend. Africa has the lowest rate of infection of any continent except Antarctica. About one in 1,500 Africanshave been infected so far, compared to almost one in 75 Americans – a rate about 20 times that of Africa.
An African farmer takes her goods to market.  iStock/gaelgogo
  • Most African countries have done a good job since March of imposing travel restrictions, sheltering in place, and enforcing other measures to reduce the spread of the virus. In the two-week period from July 13 through July 26, 21 African countries and territories experienced an increase in the number of new coronavirus cases, 13 decreased the number, and 17 were stable or had no cases.In contrast, during the same time period, 32 U.S. states had increasing numbers of cases, 16 maintained approximately the same level, and two had decreases.
  • COVID-19 has not spread as widely in Africa as originally predicted, primarily as a result of the public health policies mentioned above, but also for a variety of other reasons, including limited travel into the continent by people from infected areas of the world, and the high percentage of rural residents in many African countries. 
  • Despite the relatively gradual trajectory of the virus in most of Africa to date, it is nonetheless taking a big toll on the economy of the continent. For example, the International Monetary Fund projects that gross national product will drop by over 4% in 2020.
  • Food shortages are already an issue in some countries, for example in Zimbabwe. The United Nation’s World Food Program is stocking up on food supplies to meet what could be a food crisis in Africa.
  • There is plenty of uncertainty and disagreement about what is likely to happen in the next year. Some sources suggest that Africa is experiencing a lag in the spread of the pandemic, and that it is still going to face a large increase of cases and deaths in the months ahead, while others are more sanguine about the continent’s prospects for avoiding such a disastrous near-term future.
  • The availability of a vaccine within the next six months to a year may be the biggest factor in containing the pandemic and resuscitating the economy in Africa.

To conclude this brief review of the coronavirus in Africa, it’s good news that the continent has had as few cases and deaths as it has thus far. But, it is way too soon to predict that these low rates will continue during the next year.

If you want to keep an eye on what’s going on with the coronavirus in Africa, I recommend this BBC website.

Unfortunately, I don’t recommend the WHO website on Africa. For some reason that WHO doesn’t clearly explain, the site covers 47 African countries and not the entire continent, and thus its data are incomplete and misleading.


A heads-up on an upcoming book from The Cooperative Society Project

The working title of the book is Strengthening the International Cooperative Community. It is scheduled for publication late this fall. Many of the case studies and recommendations in the book are based on my 50 years of international cooperative research and development experience. The book will be available through The Cooperative Society website, Amazon, and local booksellers.

E.G. with colleagues, working on a cocoa co-op project in Madagascar in 2008


The Cooperative Society 2020 Report is available as a PDF on our website. We encourage you to read the report, share it with colleagues and friends, and send us a note about your own observations and interpretations as to how to make our world a better place.

We appreciate your interest in and support of The Cooperative Society Project. Thank you.
—E.G. Nadeau and Luc Nadeau

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