The Coronavirus pandemic is accelerating in Africa and disaster faces the Global South

Posted: 1 May, 2020 | Category: Uncategorized

As always, the poor and the under-nourished will be the first to fall. A woman waiting to be fed by Roman Catholic missionaries at the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique in the early 1990s (Picture:Trevor Grundy)


By Trevor Grundy


Belief that the Global South is less prone to coronavirus than countries in the northern hemisphere is just a dangerous fallacy and one that needs to be stopped dead in its track right now.

In a special report on how the Coronavirus is spreading  and causing both humanitarian and economic disaster in the world’s poorest nations, the well-respected British political columnist Jeremy Cliffe writes in the New Statesman (Apil 23-30, 2020) -” It is sometimes suggested that the Global South is less prone to coronavirus than North America, Europe and China. After all, the virus is most dangerous to older people with comorbidities and some scientists have suggested it thrives in cooler regions. It seems to spread fastest in global cities wired into international networks of people and commerce: Wuhan, New York City, Milan, Paris, and London. All of which might suggest that the Global South will be spared its blows. The populations of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and southern and South-East Asia tend to be younger, live in warmer climes and are less exposed to global movements of people.”

But, he explains -”That is a dangerous fallacy. Even if the Global South did have benefits of climate and demographics, other countervailing factors make it more vulnerable to the spread of the virus: denser cities, poorer sanitation, less effective state machineries, more people with pre-existing conditions, weaker collective immune systems and less robust health systems.”

He said that although there are relatively few reported cases in Africa at the moment the spread of coronavirus there is accelerating.  A new UN report warns that in the worst case scenario, without effective measures to stop the virus’s spread, it could infect 1,2 billion on the continent, out of a total population of 1, 3 billion and as many as 3.3 million Africans could die from it.

Then there are the indirect, but possibly yet more deleterious effects: the jobs lost, the businesses destroyed, the soaring government debt and the capital flight. It is entirely possible that the coronavirus will prompt an unprecedented economic and humanitarian crisis.

In theory, countries which have been victims of previous pandemics should have a slight advantage over countries in Europe, almost virus free on a colossal scale since the Spanish ‘flu pandemic in 1918.

Again, in theory, they should know how to cope

But, writes Cliffe that does not take away the likelihood that right now the Global South will be overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.

To read that 3.3 million Africans might lose their lives is brain-bashing and so a report from the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), which says the figure, will be more like 300,000 deaths comes as some relief.

It says that Africa is particularly susceptible because 56 percent of its urban population is concentrated in slums or informal dwellings and only 34 percent of African households have access to basic handwashing facilities.

The Report notes that Africa’s small and medium enterprises risk complete closure if there is no immediate support. Furthermore, the price of oil, which accounts for 40 percent of Africa’s exports has halved in value, and major African exports, such as textiles and fresh-cut flowers have crashed. Tourism, which accounts for up to 38 percent of some African countries’ GDP, has effectively halted as has the airline industry that supports it.

On partnerships, the Report underscores that African economies are interconnected; the response to the crisis ‘must bring us together as one’.

Foreign investment is collapsing as investors dump emerging-market stocks and bonds and stampede to safer, rich-world markets.

In the first 90 days of 2020 the cumulative outflow of foreign funds was greater than the whole of 2008 and the South African rand fell in value by 32 percent against the dollar over that period.

Anger is building in America and Britain with so many leading newspapers and commentators targeting their government for the inept way they have dealt with the crisis.

The International Crisis Group warns that violence could break out at any time now.

 Governments may fall – or hold on to power by using the cover of the crisis to orchestrate authoritarian crackdowns.

Corrupt government walks hand in hand with cheapskate profiteers and conmen and women.

A report in today’s New Statesman by the academic and author Robert Skidelsky cites the case of a company in America developing  a ventilator that was cheap to make and easy to use.

But a prototype commissioned by the US government was aborted in  2012, after the company concerned was acquired by a large producer of conventional ventilators, which are  expensive, immobile, highly technical and difficult to use and suitable only for the rich market, one well away from  Africa and the Global South.

Says Skidelsky:”This kind of suppression of useful medical tools is little more than criminal.”

The article is entitled “What the West has to change” and his parting shot provides the necessary flick-knife moment.

“Billions of dollars are spent stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. The same logic should be applied to stockpiling weapons of mass salvation.”

That’s a wonderful thought.

But the over-arching question remains: Who in this age of self-interest and staggering personal greed will make it happen?