Evangelist and Bible teacher in the Eastern Cape. B.A. and H.E.D from University of South Africa and M.A. Abilene Christian University
Why are the stats for Africa's Covid 19 so low? Some facts may give us a clue.
Africa – Some facts you did not know.
With the Covid 19 epidemic ravaging the world, it has been interesting to see that statistics for African countries seem much lower than in many of the more developed countries such as the USA, UK and Italy, to mention just a few. Is this because there is less testing being done and also that many are dying without identifying the real cause of death? Or perhaps it is the relative isolation of many countries, towns and villages from outside influences. Perhaps it is the youthful age of the population? Many live on under one dollar a day so obesity is not a big problem for most.
What this situation really is, led me to reading again the excellent book on Africa by three geographers, Tony Binns, Alan Dixon and Etienne Nel, published in 2012 and called Africa Diversity and Development. They wrote the book well before the Covid 19 disaster and so they do not deal with it specifically, but some of the statistics that they quote are perhaps worth considering.
It was interesting to learn that the population of Africa in 2009 was estimated to be about 999 million and has an average growth rate of 2.4 percent. This compares to the world population of 6,810 million and an average growth rate of 1.2 percent. The largest population is in Nigeria (152.6 million) followed by Ethiopia (82.8) and Egypt (78.6).
Africa is undoubtedly the poorest continent measured according to a range of key indicators. The life expectancy in Africa is 55 in comparison with that of the rest of the world at 69. In many countries in Africa it is in the 40’s, such as Zambia (43), Zimbabwe (42) and Lesotho (40). Here a combination of poverty and HIV play a big part. The North African countries fare the best in this area with Tunisia (78) and Egypt (73) faring best. Some of the Island nations also have a much higher life expectancy like Reunion (76) and the Seychelles (73).
It is, however, the health-care statistics that catch the eye. In Malawi for instance there is only one doctor for every 50 000 people. In Zambia and Algeria there is only one health care person for 1000 of the population. The authors make a reference to the relatively low figures in Africa for the swine flu epidemic in 2009. Many countries gave a zero number. When cause of death in many countries is established by a “verbal autopsy”, where family members are asked to describe symptoms before death to determine cause, these are problematic at best.
More than 50% of the people in Africa live in what can be called slums – often one room shacks with 5 or more people living in them. In some countries it is much higher, with Ethiopia leading the way with a figure of 99.4% and other countries like Zambia with 74%. In most countries only a small percentage of people have access to basic services like water and sewerage. This is even so in the cities with only 22% in Dar es Salaam having access to water and 6% to sewerage. Monrovia in Liberia has only 1% of the population having access to water and 1% to sewerage – this is staggering. In many cities and in rural areas people have to walk long distances to find a water source (tap/well) or river for their basic needs. Here it is again some of the North African cities that fare better. Rabat in Morocco has a water access figure of 87% and sewerage 95%.
Economically most countries are very poor with South Africa perhaps being the powerhouse of Africa with a GDP in 2005 of 239.5 billion dollars, 12x that of its nearest rival Algeria (102.3). Many countries are trapped in a one product agricultural system that is very susceptible to fluctuating world markets. Many practice mainly subsistence farming and fishing for survival.
Over the years since independence, many development programmes have been attempted so as to move Africa into a better economic position. These have come with help from the World Bank and many other aid organizations, but due to many factors have largely failed. Some of the obvious problems have been internal conflict, inadequate planning and corrupt leaders.
Kenya and Zimbabwe are good examples. Kenya was one of the first countries after independence to put into practice a plan based on resettlement of the rural population into villages and then develop communal farming. They also attempted large agricultural programs to grow products for European markets. The story of how these failed makes interesting reading. Unfortunately they tell the sad story of what has happened in much of Africa in the last 60 years.
In Zimbabwe, mismanagement and conflict destroyed a thriving country, bringing it to its knees under the corrupt leadership of the dictator, Robert Mugabe. Many African leaders invested huge amounts of money in their personal overseas banking accounts, without helping the poverty stricken people in their own countries to enjoy a better life.
In present times it is interesting to take note that China is investing huge amounts of money in developing business and infrastructure in many African countries. There is no doubt that this is going to have lasting results in the continent. One can only hope that it will not only be China that will benefit from this move.
Is the story of Africa one of doom and gloom? It must be realised that this huge continent with its diverse population is a slumbering giant. If it awakens it may well become a powerhouse in our world. Many are working to make this a reality in the future. Ten countries in recent times have already halved their poverty rate. With its undeniably rich resources, Africa has great potential. Only time will tell what the future holds. “Nkosi Sikeleli’ iAfrika- God Bless Africa” - the call goes out!
Africa Diversity and Development. Tony Binns, Alan Dixon and Etienne Nel. Routledge 2012 London and New York.
Johan Smulders (author) from East London, South Africa on June 12, 2020:
Thanks for your comment as usual. We run a soup kitchen in a squatter settlement and so many great people live there with so little. This is the story of Africa!
Liz Westwood from UK on June 12, 2020:
This is an interesting article. I was recently touched by a video of a lady in a township. She had so little, yet she was so grateful. It was challenging to watch.
My greatest fear is that COVID-19 takes hold in Africa. You rightly mention the low figure of doctors in Malawi. I hope that the virus can be kept away.