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Strained African health systems: taking the mitigation measures right now

Some figures of people at risk of severe or critical conditions of coronavirus show that at least 39 million African (65 years old and plus) are at risk; at least 19 million African (between 20-79 years old) are diabetics; and 25.7 million people living with HIV in Africa. Severe and critical cases appear the most challenging for the health system globally as this has led to the pressure on health personnel. Health services have been overwhelmed in the developed countries.

Data from China and other countries shows that people aged of 60 years old and above (with or without underlying health conditions) are at the highest risk of severe and critical conditions of corona virus and higher risk of dying as well people under 60 years with preexisting health conditions. Underlying health conditions include, among others, the cardiovascular diseases (CVD), diabetes, hypertension, chronic respiratory diseases (CRD) and asthma, cancer and other immunocompromised people. Other potential preexisting health conditions (but without evidence yet) include among other HIV/AIDS and pregnant women.

What does this mean for Africa? Data from World Health Statistics 2019 report show that the probability for an African to die from CVD, cancer, diabetes, CRD between age 30 and exact age 70 is 20.6% surpassing the global average (18.3%), Europa (16.7%) and America (15.1%) meaning that the non-communicable diseases can become a major threat for Africa in case of large COVID-19 spreading in the continent. For the specific case of diabetes in Africa, data (International Diabetes Federation, 2019 report) show that, more than 19 million people (between 20-79 years old) are diabetics and even 3 in 5 people living with diabetes do not know they have it. In addition, yet without coronavirus, 366,200 died in 2019 of diabetes and 3 in 4 deaths due to diabetes are in people under the age of 60 years. This means that Africa could face a coronavirus pandemic that will seriously affect not only the old people but also the active adults with high potential risk.

To mitigate the situation due to the coronavirus and prevent African health systems to be overwhelmed, the SDGC/A recommends to African governments the following actions.

  1. Undertake an extensive communication to inform people at risk to take extra precautions by reinforcing prevention measures such as total lock-down, avoiding contact with people come from outside or sick people in the households, clean and disinfect frequently touched services.
  2. Identify and map the channel through which the people at risk can be reached and disseminate extra precaution to be taken by them.
  3. Work with health professionals involved in the care of people at risk to disseminate the best practices they need to take in order to face the pandemic; set the strategies for caring of these people; and establish a plan for clinical care while in lock-down.
  4. Provide guidance on COVID-19 prevention for each specific risk group.
  5. Make sure that all the vaccinations of people at risk are up-to-date.


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