The Blind Spot in Africa’s COVID-19 Response: Western Public Health Tactics Won’t Work – This Local Solution Might

BY Anatole Manzi —

With more than 66,373 COVID-19 cases and 2,336 deaths reported in 53 African countries, and minimal testing available, the pandemic is primed to spread. Predictions of its impact are dire. With just one doctor per 5,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa and about one nurse or midwife per 1,000 people, a major outbreak would quickly overwhelm the continent’s health care systems.

What’s more, containment of COVID-19 would be impossible in the African context. Western tactics to stop the virus, such as hand washing and social distancing, will not work in crowded slums or areas without ready access to clean water or soap.

But where Western methods may fall short, Africa can depend on its own solutions. African countries have relied on community health workers (CHWs) – local people trained to deliver basic health services to their own communities – to successfully tackle other major epidemics, including HIV and Ebola. To reduce the impact of COVID-19, Africa must rapidly scale up the recruitment and training of CHWs, enlisting young people, teachers and faith leaders to educate the public about prevention, identify cases in their communities and help stop transmission.