South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Sudan are particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19, says a new survey of factors contributing to the risks which the pandemic poses to African nations.
The seven countries of Cameroon, Ethiopia, Chad, Somalia, Uganda, Egypt and the Central African Republic are the next most vulnerable, according to research done by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, DC, a research institution within the United States Department of Defense.
The risks which the most vulnerable countries face highlights “the importance of trying to identify and limit the spread of the virus at the early stages before it becomes entrenched in the high density urban or displaced person areas”, the center says.
It adds that the limited exposure of the DR Congo and both Sudans to international travellers gives them “a brief window to ramp up containment measures”.
” Key to these efforts will be enhanced and transparent public communications regarding COVID-19, public health guidance, and candid information about what the government is doing and what individuals should do if they exhibit symptoms. For some of these countries, given their constricted space for sharing information, this will require significantly improved levels of transparency and space for independent media.”
Turning to the seven countries next most vulnerable, the center says they too are not among the African countries most at risk from international exposure. But they need to mitigate areas of risk and draw on areas of strength.
The center’s study evaluates the vulnerability of each of the continent’s nations in nine risk categories: international exposure, the strength of their public health systems, the density of their urban areas, the total population in urban areas, the age of the population, the transparency of their governments, the press freedom they enjoy, levels of conflict and the numbers of displaced people.
The study says that, initially, international exposure, the size of urban populations and a nation’s capacity to test for the virus will determine the number of cases which are reported. It adds that “subsequent stages [in the spread of the virus] are likely to also exploit other vulnerabilities such as weak health systems, densities of urban populations, conflict, size of displaced populations, trust in government, and openness of communications channels”.
The center points to the fact that the number of cases reported, as opposed to the actual numbers of people infected, will depend on the strength of a country’s public health system. “In fact,” it says, “cases of the coronavirus may be widespread elsewhere, though they are not identified and reported.”
Looking beyond nations with relatively higher numbers of reported cases, it says that despite not having Africa’s largest urban populations, countries in the Sahel and Great Lakes regions “appear to be at high risk for severe outbreaks”. It urges that attention be given in those countries to densely- populated cities and towns, to supporting public health systems and being transparent with the public.
” However, each country faces a unique mix of vulnerabilities that will require a customized response.”