For years, politicians from Angola to Zimbabwe have received medical care abroad while their own poorly funded health systems limped from crisis to crisis, including deadly outbreaks of Ebola and the scourges of malaria and HIV. Health experts warn that many countries will be overwhelmed if the coronavirus spreads, and it is already uncomfortably close. Several ministers in Burkina Faso have been infected, as has a top aide to Nigeria’s president. An aide to Congo's leader died.
“COVID-19 is an opportunity for our leaders to reexamine their priorities,” said Livingstone Sewanyana of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, which has long urged African countries to increase health care spending.
Spending on health care in Africa is roughly 5% of gross domestic product, about half the global average. That's despite a pledge by African Union members in 2001 to spend much more. Money is sometimes diverted to security or simply pilfered, and shortages are common.
Ethiopia had just three hospital beds per 10,000 people in 2015, according to World Health Organization data, compared to two dozen or more in the U.S. and Europe. Central African Republic has just three ventilators in the entire country. In Zimbabwe, doctors have reported doing bare-handed surgeries for lack of gloves.