Pandemic Year Africa News

News from Africa

March 11, 2020, World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic.  Like the rest of the world, the African continent suffered immense loss of lives and income, which has affected the society’s economic, emotional and social health.

Testing site in Ogun State, Nigeria
Source: World Health Organization, Africa

The impact of Covid-19 in Africa was exacerbated by already existing crises and vulnerabilities pre-pandemic. For instance, between 2014 to 2016, the continent tackled its worst Ebola epidemic outbreak. Several parts of Africa struggled through volatilities like increasing insurgencies in places like Nigeria and the Sahel, food insecurity, political conflicts, terrorism, displacement and climate change challenges. All regions in the continent experienced some economic, political, climate or health crisis, pre Covid-19. Furthermore, Sub-Saharan Africa’s (SSA) fledgling social protection infrastructure compounded the effects of the pandemic on the society’s poorest and vulnerable groups – women, children and the youth.


SSA’s fragile economic and social conditions suffered major setbacks due to Covid-19. A World Bank report published on April 8, 2021 reports that the pandemic continues to take a toll on African lives and has pushed up to 40 million people into extreme poverty. Women, youth, low skill labor and those in the informal sector remain most affected by lack of access to social safety nets and income opportunities.”


The WHO Coronavirus tracker shows that the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases in Africa reached its highest on January 11, 2021 with 177,252 cases. It is also showing an onward decline since then to date.

Source: ESSA Africa

Governments navigated the vaccine market amidst the economic and political strengths of stronger world economies like the USA, Canada, and United Kingdom. To provide global cooperative support for the development of the vaccine and advocate for vaccine equity in distribution, WHO, the European Commission and France launched the COVAX facility which is managed by WHO and Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI). With 42 African countries joining the COVAX facility, 90 million initial doses of the vaccine have been distributed to account for the immunization of three percent of Africa’s vulnerable population and essential workers in the first half of 2021. The aim is to vaccinate at least 20 percent of Africa’s population by providing up to 600 million doses by the end of 2021.The African Union complements COVAX intervention by securing 670 million vaccine doses for distribution in 2021 and 2022. The U.S. government has supported the COVAX facility with $4 billion. Additionally, President Biden announced on June 3, 2021, plans for a global donation of 80 million vaccines doses. In his statement, President Biden mentioned initial action on this commitment starting with the distribution of the first 25 million doses. 75 percent of the 25 million doses will be distributed through COVAX. Africa will receive and distribute 5 million doses through a tripartite arrangement between COVAX, African Union and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Referred to as the continent with the least capacity to manage a pandemic, Africa has proved otherwise. Its mitigative measures and response to the Ebola epidemic contributed to the continent’s preparedness for Covid-19. In responding to Ebola, countries improved testing capacities, invested in health infrastructure, public awareness campaigns and partnerships, these have all been relied on to manage Covid-19.


A man walks past the graffiti on preventive measure against the novel coronavirus in Dakar, Senegal. Photo by Eddy Peters/Xinhua, Source: Xinhuanet

Financing for Covid-19 vaccine remains a major bottleneck and work in progress for most of Africa’s fragile economies. Most SSA countries are overwhelmed by the scale of distribution and planning required for vaccine rollout – this is another commonly shared challenge. Vaccine hesitancy is a global challenge. Africa CDC’s recent perception survey on the Covid-19 vaccine found that “a significant proportion of people had concerns around vaccine safety.” Primarily, Africans are concerned about vaccine efficacy and safety, heightened by the emerging variants of the virus. Consequently, despite inadequate supply of vaccines, most countries have to destroy record numbers of expired vaccines.


The significance of insufficient data, testing and tracking infrastructure and capacities, presented challenges to contact tracing, data on number of cases and deaths, and vaccine distribution planning. There are strong arguments positing that the numbers of cases and deaths are contestable. As a development practitioner with experience in Africa, I find the argument substantive.

Covid-19 led to significant disruptions to education. Regions like SSA with less robust education systems were badly affected. The wide digital divide made learning impossible for most students, and in some cases, students were totally excluded. There has been significant learning loss.


“Senegal graffiti artists become public-health advocates for Covid-19” Source: Business Day, South Africa

Post Covid-19 reconstruction planning presents a window for transformative policies – in the policy world, times of crisis are prime periods to introduce potentially disruptive ideas. It is up to political leaders and decision makers, international institutions, NGOs, and private donors to work together to make it happen. Post Covid-19, furtherance of digital technology infrastructure, online learning culture, access to basic health, in addition to rebuilding its economies, will be priorities. A salient but lingering effect of the pandemic has been shadow pandemics like increases in sex abuse and gender-based violence.  Africa will continue to need global support for continued prevention, education and communication, especially in ensuring vaccination for all.


We are grateful for the end of this unusual academic year. ASC wishes everyone a great summer, and we look forward to welcoming you back in the fall.

Ada Umenwaliri,

Associate Director, African Studies Center, UNC Chapel Hill.