When Covid-19 hits Africa, will we be ready? This was a distant thought just one month ago. Now, as cases climb, we are braced for impact.
As the crisis deepens in the world’s largest economies, taking up most of the media bandwidth, Africa hardly makes the headlines. In international news outlets, the idea of crisis in Africa is met with resignation, not outrage. It is almost as if the media perceives crisis as the status quo in Africa, something expected. Unavoidable.
Kenya’s cabinet secretary for health, Mutahi Kagwe, has cautioned: “We are praying and hoping for the best, but clearly we must also prepare for the worst. And mentally we must prepare ourselves to face an insurmountable situation.”
To date, only a handful of countries have successfully “flattened the curve”, controlling the outbreak so that it doesn’t overwhelm their healthcare system. We now know this is possible, and what it will take. So we must ask ourselves – what more can be done to strengthen prevention and readiness efforts where coronavirus has yet to take hold? We must do more as a global community to ensure the third wave is not the deadliest and most destructive.
If we don’t act now, communities such as mine are where Covid will cause the most destruction and even chaos. I grew up in Kibera, Africa’s biggest slum, on the outskirts of Kenya’s capital city. Like all cities, Nairobi is a fluid urban centre where people are interconnected through jobs, mass transit, daily life, but here approximately 60% of the population are living in an urban slum.
Kibera, like all slums, is a transitory place where people come and go between their families’ ancestral village and the promise of economic opportunity in urban centres. Raised in a 10-by-10 shanty room with seven siblings, we had no concept of personal space or time alone. Hygiene was poor, our toilet was shared by more than 50 households.
Today, despite all our efforts, thousands of Kibera’s families live in the same circumstances alongside poor sanitation. With up to 250,000 of the world’s poorest people living on 2.5 sq km of land, there is no way to practise “two-metre social distancing”. in Kibera and among the world’s one billion slum dwellers, our best bet is to try to prevent an outbreak; we know this is virtually impossible but it’s our only hope and we have to try. In a pandemic such as this, the fate of urban slums will impact the trajectory of the Covid-19 virus on a national scale.
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO,) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that Africa must wake up to the coronavirus. Vulnerable communities like mine are heeding this call, working around the clock, scraping together resources to do everything they can to keep the virus out. It is time for international leaders to step in with support that can reinforce community-led efforts. Even modest investments such as cash payments to slum dwellers and improving awareness, testing efforts and food support would go a long way towards containing and slowing the spread. As I write, there have only been 197 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Kenya with eight deaths but where will we be in a month’s time, if the virus spreads the way it has in the developed world?The United States may lift some restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic in early May