Lessons from Ebola for COVID-19 Africa

Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa at the World Economic Forum

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 3% of the population is over 65, significantly lower than China’s 11% and Italy’s 23%, but we could see strain on healthcare systems. Analysis on what South Africa’s state of emergency means, how countries are adapting lessons from Ebola follows from Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa at the World Economic Forum.

The South African government declared a national disaster on Sunday, enabling it easier access to funding and special measures to combat the spread of covid-19. It follows the lead of many other countries across Asia, Europe and North America partially closing land and sea borders, limiting public gatherings and closing schools. This measure could last for three months.

As we have seen with other countries – the faster the action to curb the spread of the virus, the better. Preparedness is key and limiting the spread of the virus will ensure hospital and healthcare systems do not come under further strain. Public-private cooperation has never been needed more.

One important fact to keep in mind is that across Sub-Saharan Africa, only 3% of the population is over 65. This is dramatically lower than similar age brackets in China (11%) and Italy (23%). While young adults seem to suffer less with the virus, we could still see increased strain on healthcare systems. Limiting the spread of the virus will be important.

We are also seeing many countries deploying lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak. The African Centre for Disease Control – the pan-African authority on public health created to respond to Ebola – has been supporting countries with the repurposing of screenings, surveillance systems and isolation wards for covid-19. 43 countries can currently test for the virus.

Economically, there are multiple concerns. With a global market slowdown, governments are likely to be looking at how to buffer the economic impact of the spread of this virus. We are likely to see a temporary hit due to the slowdown of European markets – a major trading partner for Africa – but the good news is that China’s factories are starting to switch back on and this could mitigate lasting damage.