By Anita Powell
The challenges faced by African nations during the coronavirus pandemic are about much more than a rapidly spreading virus, American aid officials say. They’re concerned about the threats it poses to proper nutrition, the economy, liberties and freedoms, and the ongoing war against a deadly parasite that has plagued this continent for centuries: malaria.
The U.S. has put in more than $1 billion toward helping other countries fight the coronavirus pandemic. By State Department estimates, more than a quarter of that money has gone to the African continent. And in 2019, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department added another $8.3 billion of assistance to 47 countries.
That may seem like a large sum, but USAID’s senior coordinator for Africa, Christopher Runyan, enumerated the challenges they have to cover with those funds — especially amid predictions that a viral spike is on its way for African nations.
“Our primary concerns in Africa now are responding to the disease; the food security issues and disruptions in access to food; economic and employment impacts in Africa; and concerns for democratic backsliding and the loss of progress in other development sectors. On health response, we may not yet have seen the potential height of an outbreak in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Runyan. “Weak health system capacity, urban density with poor sanitation, and other challenges make Africa particularly vulnerable to a large-scale outbreak.”
And, says Dr. Kenneth Staley, USAID’s Global Malaria Coordinator and leader of its COVID-19 Task Force, there is another killer on the loose. According to the World Health Organization, malaria kills about 400,000 Africans each year. He says health workers and officials are doing all they can to keep up the fight against malaria.
“We’re trying to ensure that all of our services are maintained during this time. … As with many other crises, the challenges we see are very similar. So, first of all, we see effects with our supply chains,” said Runyan. “We need to spend more time and think more about how we can get active pharmaceutical ingredients, for example, all the way to making sure that our medicines can reach the last mile.
“Then the third point, in terms of quantifying impact, we’ve seen about a 25 to 30 percent increase in our costs. To put a price tag on it, our estimated increased cost at the moment are about $120 million dollars. … And so I think the malaria coordinators in each country, as well as international partners, are going to great lengths to think through how we can adapt our delivery of care in the COVID-19 environment.”
So far, the virus has killed about 2,800 people in Africa, according to WHO reports. In the U.S., 105,000 people have died.