Thursday, April 30, 2020

COVID-19 in Africa - the latest

World Health Organization officials in Africa have said the Covid-19 outbreak is still increasing across the continent despite widespread efforts at containment. Unlike developed countries that can rely on relatively well-resourced health systems to treat large numbers of sick people, most African nations are hoping they can slow the spread of the disease to protect very limited facilities. 

African nations have now reported more than 37,400 cases, including 1,598 deaths, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Only the small southern African kingdom of Lesotho has not reported a single case of the disease.

In South Africa, which has the continent’s highest number of reported cases at 5,350, community health workers continued testing in Johannesburg.  South Africa reported another 297 positive cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, bringing the total in the country to 5,647, the health department said. “The total number of tests conducted to date is 207,530, of which 10,403 were done in the last 24 hours,” the Ministry of Health said. Deaths remained at 103. Wednesday’s increase of 354 in infections was the highest in a 24-hour cycle. South Africa’s five-week strict national lockdown ends on Friday, but with only a clutch of industries being allowed to operate in a bid to keep the economy going while keeping the spread of the virus at bay.

A rise in cases of Covid-19 across northern Nigeria has seen several states controversially deport hundreds of “almajiris” - mostly children, studying in Islamic boarding schools - back to their states of origin. The states, most in Nigeria’s majority Muslim north, say the deportations are to halt the spread of Covid-19. Yet the deportations of mostly vulnerable children appear to be spreading it across states where the capacity to trace and test for Covid-19 is extremely limited. This afternoon, the Kaduna state government, in north-west Nigeria, said 16 new cases of Covid-19 were of almajiris, recently deported from neighbouring Kano state, where hundreds of unexplained deaths have occured in the last week.  

Doctors in Kano told the Guardian there has been a rise in pneumonia cases in recent weeks, heightening fears of a Covid-19 outbreak. The mass deportations of vulnerable children, who may have Covid-19 has caused alarm in Nigeria. Almajiris, enrolled in conservative Islamic schools, are often sent away from their homes without school fees, with many resorting to begging on the streets. As extreme poverty has grown, the system has become increasingly exploited. 

 In the last 6 months, several almajiri schools have been shut after it emerged thousands were being enslaved, tortured and sexually abused. Authorities have been accused of ill treatment, with reports of almajiris being left in other states without protection.  State-to-state deportations are contentious yet do occur in Nigeria, where state rights are sensitive.  The increasing deportations of these children, some of whom appear to have Covid-19, moving between poor states with limited health services is worrying. Their health infrastructure to test or trace for the spread of Covid-19 is severely limited. Nigeria overall is struggling to boost testing, with just 13,000 tests administered.  The number of confirmed infections across the country is relatively low - 1.728 - but the daily rise in new cases has been gradually accelerating.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

COVID19 - Are Palliatives Working?

Few African countries have social safety nets to catch people if they lose their jobs. The precarious existence for those workers in the informal sector, and the large numbers of relatives who rely on them, means that the halting of economic activity could spell disaster.
25-year-old Ugandan Richard Kabanda is worried about feeding his family. The motorbike taxi driver, who used to earn about $2 (£1.60) a day, has had no work since the government banned public transport last month as part of measures to slow the spread of coronavirus.
"We are going to die because there is nothing we can do," he told the BBC from his house, which is in a slum, close to the swamps by Lake Victoria. "We are going to die inside our homes because we will run out of food yet we've been told not to leave our homes."
Once his savings had run out, he had hoped to benefit from a food distribution programme that the government promised to 1.5 million of those most in need. His experience was typical of the more than four out of five African workers who survive day-to-day in the informal sector and have no access to state assistance.
Ronak Gopaldas, director of the South Africa-based risk management company, Signal Risk.
"If people don't work, they don't eat. Ongoing lockdowns are unsustainable in their current forms."
Jane Barrett, who works in South Africa for Wiego, an organisation that supports women in informal employment, says that things are currently "pretty dire on the ground". People are relying on food parcels that are being distributed by charities and civil society organisations but "we are hearing heart-breaking stories all the time of people not being reached in rural areas and whole informal settlements where food distribution has hardly touched", she adds.
Razia Khan, chief economist for Africa at Standard Chartered Bank, explains, "Given the greater formalisation of South Africa's economy it is able to come up with its package," she adds. "But this is the difficulty for many countries - it is incredibly hard for governments across the region to reach out to those who operate in the informal sector. This is a key hurdle."
Rachel Strohm, a researcher into poverty alleviation policies, told the BBC, as "cash transfers are a well-proven means of supporting vulnerable people during times of crisis". But she highlighted the lack of clarity over the recipients. If it is to be distributed among all 18.6 million Kenyans who live below the poverty line of $2 a day, it would not last long.
Rwanda and Uganda are for the moment relying on using food handouts to sustain the most needy. But in Uganda, they may not be reaching everyone who is hungry. The Ugandan motorbike taxi driver, Mr Kabanda, said that he had not yet received a food parcel a fortnight after the food scheme was announced.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with some 200 million people, has ordered a lockdown in its commercial hub, Lagos, the neighbouring state of Ogun and the capital Abuja. 
President Muahammadu Buhari has announced a series of what he described as "palliative measures", among them expanding the number of households included in a cash transfer scheme from 2.6 million to 3.6 million. This should mean that just under 10% of the population will receive $13 a month. It is meant only for the very poorest and what happens to the rest is not clear. But the BBC's Nduka Orjinmo in Lagos says it is hard to see how anyone can survive on $13 for a month, even if it was only spent on food.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Pandemic Problems Loom

COVID-19 could not have come at a worse time for vulnerable communities across West Africa.

It is a complex region hit by chronic hunger, insecurity, climate change, the threats of a Desert Locust outbreak, and now the pandemic. Year after year, five out of the ten countries at the bottom of the UN Development Index are in West Africa.

Right now, there is particularly concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Central Sahel - comprised of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Some four million people here are already facing extreme hunger and this could rise to 5.5 million people by August. Just to put it in perspective - by August, in Burkina Faso, over two million people could be facing extreme hunger, and at the worst time - as the lean season sets in and food becomes scarcer. This number is three times higher than last year during the same period.
Across West Africa, as of April, over 11 million people need immediate food assistance - mostly due to conflict. And this number will continue rising, potentially reaching 17 million during the lean season (June- August) if we don't respond fast.

Many people are not only hungry. They are also uprooted and have lost what they had. The ones I spoke to had the same story - of villages attacked; of family members killed or displaced; of homes or fields destroyed; of animals abandoned or killed. As of now, some 1.2 million people have been displaced in Central Sahel. If the conflict persists, more people will suffer the same fate.
Malnutrition rates in the Sahel are one of the highest in the world. Some 2.5 million children - more than a quarter in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger - suffer from severe and acute malnutrition.

The pandemic - if it spreads further - will translate into increasing threats: from more displacements to less and less access to basic social services, higher food prices, less food. Transport is also already affected, which will impact on food and products' supply.
Farmers need to be able to sell their current produces but also access fields and markets to prepare for the main 2020/2021 agricultural season. Pastoralists or nomadic herders need to move with their animals. Governments and humanitarian actors need to assist people requiring urgent food, nutritional and emergency support during the lean season.

For centuries, nomadic herders across the Sahel have moved hundreds of miles every year to find pasture for their herds. This is something they do each year, especially during April-May as pastures become drier. Many Mauritanian herders, for example, head to Mali and Senegal in search of pasture.

But, as borders close, nomadic herders are no longer able to move in search of fodder and water or to trade - animals can be traded for other foods or essential items.

This can lead to herders losing their income as they can't sell their animals or buy what they need for them as well as potentially losing animals as some of them might not survive or might fall ill. When animals suffer, people suffer. When animals die or stop being a source of milk or meat, people go hungry. When animals are lost, so are people's livelihoods. Farmers will also be affected by COVID-19 due to a lower supply of fertilizers and seeds, the closure of stores and markets, and reduced assistance.

As the world waits desperately for a vaccine for the COVID-19  over 13 million children below the age of one globally did not receive any vaccines at all in 2018, many of whom live in countries with weak health systems. Millions of children are in danger of missing life-saving vaccines against measles, diphtheria and polio due to disruptions in immunization services.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Africa's Imminent Food Crisis

Sub-Saharan Africa could be heading from a health crisis straight into a food security crisis, the World Bank warns. 
More widely, the United Nations says coronavirus disruptions could double the number of people globally without reliable access to nutritious food, to 265 million. 

“There is no question about it that there is an imminent problem of food insecurity, not only in Nigeria, but also in nations all over the world,” Nigeria’s Agriculture Minister Muhammed Sabo Nanono told Reuters. 

Sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s largest rice-importing region. The imports the region relies on have also dried up as major suppliers, including India, Vietnam and Cambodia, have reduced or even banned rice exports. The curbs hit prices immediately. The price of a bag of imported rice rose by more than 7.5% in Abuja and Lagos between the third week of March and early April, according to SBM Intelligence, while bags of local rice became about 6%-8% more expensive.

The region has among the lowest inventories regards rice reserves relative to consumption, so export restrictions mean rice shortages “could happen very quickly,” according to John Hurley, lead regional economist for west and central Africa for the U.N.’s International Fund for Agricultural Development. In Kenya, panic-buying and government programmes to distribute rice to low-income households have already depleted reserves. Across sub-Saharan Africa, countries rely on imports for roughly 40% of rice consumption. Nigeria still imports at least a third of what it consumes. 

If imports don’t pick up, East Africa alone could face a shortfall of at least 50,000-60,000 tonnes by the end of the month, said Mital Shah, managing director of Kenya-based Sunrice, one of the region’s largest rice importers.  “The entire supply chain has been disrupted,” Shah said. “In the next couple of weeks, East Africa is going to have a huge shortage.”

Senegal’s rice imports have fallen by around 30% due to international supply disruptions, said Ousmane Sy Ndiaye, executive director of UNACOIS, a Senegalese commerce industry group. He estimated the nation had enough in storage to cover two months. 

Movement restrictions are also hindering farmers, and some are warning that production will fall if governments do not act. 

In Nigeria’s Benue state, the food basket of the country, Mercy Yialase sits in front of her idle rice mill. Demand is high across the nation, but she already has mounds of paddy rice that are going nowhere amid the COVID-19 lockdown. 

“I can’t mill because the marketers are not coming,” Yialase said, referring to wholesale buyers, as she sat at a market stall in the city of Makurdi with dozens of other millers. 

Although food truck drivers are meant to be exempt from lockdown restrictions, many are afraid for their own safety, or fear they will be fined or arrested by overzealous police. Trucking logistics firm Kobo360 said 30% of its fleet across Nigeria, Kenya, Togo, Ghana and Uganda was not operating as a result. Several farmers said crops were rotting in the fields or at the depots waiting for trucks that never arrive. And millers cannot get their milled rice to buyers. Kobo360 co-founder Ife Oyedele, added that truck bosses were afraid. “They’re scared to go out and have their drivers on the road.”

Nigeria’s fertilizer stocks are currently 20% below normal levels. There are only enough seeds and other inputs to farm 1 million hectares out of the roughly 30 million typically farmed, the study showed.

Africa short of medical equipment

As Africa braces for a surge in coronavirus cases, its countries are dangerously behind in the global race for scarce medical equipment. Even in the best scenario, the United Nations says 74 million test kits and 30,000 ventilators will be needed by the continent’s 1.3 billion people this year. Very few are in hand. Ten nations have no ventilators at all. Africa imports as much as 94% of its pharmaceuticals, the U.N. says.

“We are competing with the developed world,” said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Amer Daoudi, the U.N. World Food Program’s senior director of operations, told The Associated Press. “Countries in Europe and North America are paying attention to their own internal needs..."

The Trump administration has said coronavirus aid to at-risk countries would not include key medical equipment. A senior U.S. administration official said aid has focused on water, sanitation and messaging
“I’ve heard no situation yet in any of our countries where the U.S. has made any medical supplies available anywhere,” said Charles Franzen, director of humanitarian and disaster response for World Relief. 
“Irresponsible behavior by richer countries” will not solve the pandemic, said Amit Thakker, president of the Africa Healthcare Federation, criticizing “any country that diverts supplies for the sake of their own citizens” at developing countries’ expense.
 South Africa has only about four weeks’ worth of protective gear. With better-resourced countries more likely to score deals, “that’s not great for Africa. ... Ventilators are like trying to spot a dodo bird at the moment, literally,” said Stavros Nicolaou, in South Africa.
Sudanese-born billionaire philanthropist Mo Ibrahim. “This is the time for everybody to act together, not to compete.”

Covid-19 Vs. Malaria

Deaths from malaria could double across sub-Saharan Africa this year if work to prevent the disease is disrupted by Covid-19, the World Health Organization has warned.
The UN’s global health agency said that if countries failed to maintain delivery of insecticide-treated nets and access to antimalarial medicines, up to 769,000 people could die of malaria this year. That figure, which would be more than double the number of deaths in 2018, would mark a return to mortality levels last seen 20 years ago.
“While Covid-19 is a major health threat, it’s critical to maintain malaria prevention and treatment programmes,” said the WHO’s Africa director, Dr Matshidiso Moeti. “The new modeling shows deaths could exceed 700,000 this year alone. We haven’t seen mortality levels like that in 20 years. We must not turn back the clock.”
In 2018, 94% of global deaths from malaria occured in sub-Saharan Africa.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Who is caring about coronavirus in CAR

Central African Republic (CAR) is a country that the United Nations calls one of the least prepared to cope with a coronavirus outbreak.

The challenge is colossal. Armed groups control large swathes of territory while doctors already struggle to treat existing cases of malaria, measles and tuberculosis, let alone a new virus with no known vaccine or treatment. As healthcare systems in wealthy nations buckle under the strain of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, medical professionals fear an even greater impact in vulnerable countries such as CAR.

As of April 22, CAR had confirmed 14 coronavirus cases, a far lower number compared with the 1,163 infections registered in neighbouring Cameroon to the west and the 359 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the south. But a lack of testing and medical equipment could be allowing cases to go under the radar. 

CAR's health system had been weakened by decades of mismanagement and political turmoil. Years of fighting  have ravaged what is left of it. The country has only one dedicated COVID-19 treatment centre with just 14 beds and  nationwide a total of just three ventilation kits, a solitary oxygen concentrator and zero number of isolation units to treat milder cases to provide quarantine. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that a lack of qualified personnel, proper waste disposal and hygiene equipment will make it difficult to prevent infections within healthcare facilities.

"COVID-19 has the potential to tear through the Central African Republic at lightning spread if the country doesn't get the support it needs to adequately protect itself against the virus," says David Manan, the Norwegian Refugee Council. "This could be replicated across the world's poorest countries, where health infrastructure is virtually non-existent."

Today, the average life expectancy in CAR is less than 53 years and half the population depends on humanitarian support. This year's response plan to critical humanitarian needs, which existed even before the threat of coronavirus, faces a funding gap of more than $300m.   The region's healthcare workers have also gained expertise by tackling other epidemics in this challenging environment. But charities such as Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warn that COVID-19 is very different from others it has faced in recent decades, citing among others the impact of high hospitalisation rates and the disruption of medical supplies on fragile healthcare systems due to lockdowns.

The government has restricted internal travel and ordered new arrivals from abroad to quarantine for up to 21 days. Schools, bars and places of worship have been told to close, and gatherings of more than 15 people have been banned. But recently published photos show daily life in Bangui continuing as normal for many, with people crowded in markets and congregating inside bars that, from the outside, purport to be closed.

"Most Central Africans do not believe in the existence of coronavirus in CAR, even if we talk about it every day," says Fanny Balekossi, a presenter at Radio Ndeke Luka, CAR's most popular station . "Some say it's a ploy for the government to extract money from the WHO. Others believe this disease won't affect Central Africans. Several preventive measures have been taken by the government but unfortunately are not observed by the population."

The obstacles are even larger in rebel-controlled areas, which account for some three-quarters of CAR's total territory. There, the government's power to impose coronavirus containment measures is practically non-existent.  Many communities live outside of government supervision and face entirely different social and environmental circumstances to each other.  In a bid to minimise the spread of the coronavirus, a 14,500-strong UN peacekeeping force deployed across the country to prevent attacks on civilians has now suspended most internal travel and stopped rotating in new contingents. 

Even in the relative safety of Bangui, where the government still has authority, sprawling shantytowns and scant physical distancing are an epidemiologist's nightmare.

In CAR, where average earnings are just more than $2 a day, people can only dream of the support packages prepared by wealthier states for workers hit by the crisis. The absence of a functional welfare system, a decline in remittances from abroad, disruptions to supply chains and the knock-on effects of a global downturn will only exacerbate the daily grind. With most international flights suspended, Cameroon's border shut and the country dependent on imports, humanitarian coordinators in CAR warn of a spike in food prices.

Overcrowded camps housing people fleeing violence present the perfect conditions for pathogens to spread. In CAR, one site may house upwards of 40,000 people living under dusty tents in close confines and often surrounded by hostile armed groups. The sheer numbers, though, are overwhelming.

"We don't have enough but we will do our best," says Pierre Atchom, UNHCR's deputy representative in CAR overseeing protection. "Our fear is that this pandemic spreads to the camps. If it does, it will be very difficult for us to stop it."

Quarantine Escapees in Kenya

Kenyans escaping from a coronavirus quarantine centre will be hunted down and sent back there, President Uhuru Kenyatta has said.
Those in forced quarantine have been complaining about poor conditions. They say some centres are not much better than prisons, with poor hygiene and complaints that social distancing is impossible because of overcrowding.
Others are angered about having to pay for their confinement, which costs between 20 (£16) and $100 a night - depending on the centre.
More than 400 people are currently in quarantine. They include people who arrived in the East African country from areas affected by the virus before it closed its borders and those found to have been in contact with a coronavirus patient.

Africa will lose $37 Billion

Migrant workers will send less money home as jobs dry up because of coronavirus
Global remittances are forecast to decline by about 20% this year as the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic shuts down business activity, the World Bank says.
This is the sharpest decline on record for what has become a lifeline for many people in Africa and elsewhere.
Migrant workers will not send as much money home because their employment and pay is vulnerable.
Globally money sent home by workers abroad to low and middle-income countries is forecast to fall by about $445bn (£360bn).
The decline for sub-Saharan Africa is predicted to be 23% and amount to $37bn this year.
The World Bank report also highlights how the cost of sending money to the region is about a third more expensive than the global average.
The average commission charged for sending $200 is 9%, but for southern Africa it can cost as much as 20%.

The militarisation of the pandemic

More than 70,000 extra troops will be deployed in South Africa to help enforce a lockdown intended to stop the spread of coronavirus.

It is the country's biggest military deployment for domestic purposes since 1994.

Some have raised concerns, saying the country will resemble a military state. They note that more than a dozen soldiers are already under investigation for brutality after allegedly killing a man in Alexandra township, in northern Johannesburg.  Critics adding that the middle class, which hasn't suffered any harassment by the army is sitting comfortably, while poor people are literally dying at the hands of the soldiers.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


Africa will need $44 billion for testing, personal protective equipment and treatment of coronavirus, according to a report last week by the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa. The worst-case scenario estimates $446 billion would be needed.
WHO says the number of beds in intensive care units available to treat COVID-19 patients in 43 African countries is less than 5,000. That’s about five beds per 1 million people compared to 4,000 beds per 1 million in Europe.
Africa has more than 23,000 infections across the continent, including more than 1,100 deaths. Authorities this week are starting to roll out a dramatic increase in testing, with the goal of testing 1 million people over the next four weeks.

Zimbabwe and Hunger

Zimbabwe is facing the worst food shortage in recent memory. Once known as the breadbasket of the continent, the country is now facing its most serious crises. It has resulted in a lot of fear and loss of hope among people. Nearly half of Zimbabwe’s population, some eight million people, face food insecurity, with majority of population concentrated in the rural areas.

According to a report in November 2019, by Hilal Elver, the U.N’s Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Zimbabwe counts amongst the four highest food insecure States, alongside conflict-ravaged countries. In her preliminary findings, she said that the international community should scale up humanitarian aid to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in the country.

Zimbabwe has been ranked 9th by American charity organisation Concern Worldwide among the ‘world’s top ten hungriest countries’ in 2018.  One reason is climate change. In the 2018-2019 season, parts of southern Africa, including Zimbabwe, received their lowest rainfall since 1981, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Many smallholder farmers have not had a good harvest for two or more years. Meanwhile, the continued advance of Army Worm, a highly destructive moth larvae, threatens those who have managed to grow maize and other staples. The country has less than 5 percent access to irrigation facilities. Due to climate change, the ground water levels have also diminished, and temperature has also increased. There has been lack of reliable rainfall in the past five seasons.
 Food insecurity in urban areas has also been a cause of concern, as a heavy tax system, pervasive corruption, livestock losses, power cuts, recent droughts, high levels of unemployment, conditions set by U.S. and E.U., and low wages have affected the households. Businesses are also struggling and thus reducing their workforce.
Add to that, the country is also facing an economic recession with shortages of basics such as fuel and medicines. There were inflationary pressures seen in 2008, when the country stopped pegging its currency at par with the United States dollar. Zimbabwe adopted the use of U.S. dollar after hyperinflation drastically reduced the value of the local currency. However, ‘dollarising’ hit a major bump in 2015, when the dollar started vanishing from the formal banking system. In a bid to end the US dollar shortage, Zimbabwe’s central bank introduced bond notes – a form of surrogate currency that was backed by a $200 million bond facility from the Export-Import Bank. But, black market speculation quickly diminished the bond note’s value, triggering a shortage, which central bank tried to offset by creating electronic notes. It prompted the bank to merge bond notes –both physical and electronic- into Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) dollar, known as Zimdollar. Despite that, the effort has failed after Zimdollar quickly fell prey to black market speculation that sent its value plummeting.
There are scores of people who have migrated from poor rural areas to cities in search of job opportunities, to improve their access to sufficient and adequate food and other public services. However, they had ended up living in informal settlements that are multiplying in the streets of Harare. With the result, spreadable diseases due to unsafe water and open sewage are increasing.
According to a report in Al Jazeera, “the most vulnerable segments of society, including the elderly, children and women, are forced to rely upon coping mechanisms such as, school dropout, early marriage, and sex trade to obtain food, behavioural patterns that often are accompanied by domestic violence.”

Most of the schools in Harare are no longer able to continue their school feeding programmes. At best, some schools are able to offer one meal a week per classroom. The report, compiled by Unicef and the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency, shows high levels of privation in rural areas, where 76.3% of children live in abject poverty. Statistics observed by the Guardian ascertain that almost half of these children do not have enough of the right food to eat. Child poverty is more prevalent in Mashonaland Central, Manicaland and Matabeleland North.
According to Reuters, Zimbabwe’s agriculture minister, Perrance Shiri, said that the country has less than 100,000 tonnes of grain in its strategic reserves. The grain reserve has a 500,000-tonne capacity, but has seen a drop after a poor harvest. Zimbabwe consumes 80,000 tonnes of maize every month.
In January, Zimbabwe permitted the importation of genetically modified grains for the first time in over a decade, with the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe acquiring 100,000 tonnes of genetically engineered maize from South Africa and Brasil.
In addition, the government has zero-rated VAT and import duty on all basic commodities, and created a green channel to fast-track essential food consignments, through the land-locked country’s border posts.
While Zimbabwe bought 100,000 tons of corn and received delivery of it from Tanzania in 2019, it hasn’t been in contact with the country ever since, as Tanzania seems to limit exports to build its own reserves. The World Food Programme has also imported 20,000 tons of corn from South Africa and 50,000 tons from Ukraine and Mexico. The government has not been involved in those shipments.

The irony is that there is also a lot of food wastage in the country. There are piles and piles of vegetable rotting in the food markets, because people do not have enough money to buy.