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Real-time data can help combat Covid-19 in Africa

Police officer checks a motorist's travel papers during the COVID-19 lockdown in Harare, Zimbabwe, 30 April 2020. (©Aaron Ufumeli).

Nearly 70% of Africans would run out of food and water if they were required to remain at home for 14 days – and over half would exhaust their available funds for basic needs, according to the findings of a recent survey of 21,000 people across 20 countries. So while early application of lockdown policies in Africa helped curb the spread of infection, decision-makers need to have real-time data about how measures affect public health and well-being, as they plan long-term response strateges. This is the key finding of a new report by the Partnership for Evidence-based Response to COVID-19 (PERC).

The report and its authors

The report, Responding to COVID-19 in Africa: Using Data to Find a Balance was released today at a high-level panel discussion, convened by the World Economic Forum. WEF also facilitated the partnership in the report, developed by the Africa Centres for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, Ipsos, Vital Strategies’ Resolve to Save Lives initiative, the UK Public Health Rapid Support Team, and Novetta Mission Analytics.

Objective

Providing real-time information and guidance to African governments  as they move toward a long-term response.

“First-of-its-kind data” from an IPSOS survey

Almost 21,000 people from 28 cities in 20 African countries surveyed between March 29 and April 4th. “A substantial research survey very fast,” according to Dr Darrell Bricker, CEO Public Affairs, Ipsos.

Findings

Unveiled during a press briefing moderated by WEF as part of the COVID action platform.

  • One third (32%) of respondents said they do not have enough information about the coronavirus, including how it spreads and how to protect themselves;

  • Large majorities of those surveyed believe COVID-19 will have major impact on their country (62%), but only 44% believe it is a threat to them personally;

  • More than two thirds (69%) of respondents said access to sufficient food and water would be a problem if they were required to remain at home for 14 days – and 51% would run out of money.

Lessons learned

“The explosion of COVID-19 cases seen in other parts of the world has not yet materialized in Africa. We don’t know why… but we still have have a long journey ahead,” said Dr Tom Frieden, CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies. Key findings he and other panelists cited:

  • Africa’s younger population may explain, in part, the slower advance of the disease, which hits oldest people the hardest. However, COVID also threatens other vulnerable groups, and there is a lack of information about who is most at risk.

  • In Africa, the social safety net is limited, and the ability of individuals and communities to survive and thrive during a lockdown is even less than in other parts of the world

  • There was a critical scarcity of health workers even before COVID-19, and measures to protect health workers from infection by the new virus are inadequate.

Recommendations

  • Strengthen public health systems for immediate response and for a lasting recovery;

  • Monitor data on how public health and social measures meet local COVID-19 conditions and needs;

  • Engage communities to adapt public health measures in the local context, and effectively communicate about risks to sustain public support;

  • Protect health care workers at the front line of the response so they can save our lives;

  • Continue essential services for non-COVID conditions (maternal care; HIV, TB, malaria vaccinations, chronic diseases) responsible for one million death each year across the continent;

  • Decentralize capacities away from initial capital cities; repurpose workers; engage and anchor communities;

  • Strengthen supply chains for basic commodities within countries.

A few exemples of Africa’s resilience

“Rapid response in Africa undoubtedly saved lives,” said Frieden.

  • Reinforcement of public health capacities in Cote d’Ivoire helped to effectively implement lockdown measures and limit transmission within the capital city and other potential hotspots.

  • South Africa has tested widely, using lessons learned from HIV and TB, and deploying more than 28 000 health care workers in their response

  • Ethiopia, building its strong system of community health extension workers has visited 100 000 homes to provide information about the virus.

  • Liberia, which learned from the Ebola epidemic, has scaled up contact tracing in community level formats;

  • Other countries also have leveraged capacities built during their response to Ebola outbreaks, including community based surveillance and response and real time GIS systems and technologies to strengthen COVID-19 surveillance.

  • Health systems are repurposing HIV and TB laboratory assets for COVID-19 testing.

Speakers

  • Dr Darrell Bricker, CEO Public Affairs, IPSOS

  • Dr Tom Frieden, infectious disease and public health physician, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies

  • Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa

  • Dr John Nkengasong, Director, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention