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Coronavirus in Africa

COVID-19 has increased hunger levels

COVID-19 has spread all over the world and infected several million people. For hundreds of thousands of those infected, the disease has been fatal. In Africa, the virus not only has health consequences, but also dramatic effects on the economy and the food situation. Hunger and poverty have worsened – especially the poorer population is suffering.

Africa and COVID-19 – the ticking time bomb

COVID-19 cases in Africa

(As of: 16-10-2022; Source: WHO)

So far, there have been no major waves of infection in most African countries, unlike in India, Brazil, the USA and across Europe, but due to the lack of available COVID-19 tests the number of unreported cases may be much higher than recorded. The health sector in sub-Saharan Africa is understaffed and underequipped, contributing to the insufficient data available.

Added to this is the fact that the African continent is much more vulnerable than, say, Europe or the USA. The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly devastating for the poorest people. For example, when people lose their income due to COVID-related restrictions, many countries in the Global South do not have a social security system to compensate for these losses. The necessary money and structures to contain the economic impact are lacking. More and more people are falling into absolute poverty and cannot survive without help. In many African countries, the economy has collapsed dramatically and food prices have risen – people are starving. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, COVID-19 could almost double the number of people suffering from acute hunger.

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The Omicron variant spreads

"The news of the Omicron variant in South Africa and the travel restrictions in many countries came as a shock to us," says Regina Feindt, country director for Welthungerhilfe in Zimbabwe. "The stigmatization of Africa as a pandemic driver, where a dangerous variant has been discovered for the second time, is not fair." The Omicron variant was first reported in South Africa on November 24, 2021. This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are considered to be of concern. Preliminary evidence suggests that there is an increased risk of infection with this variant. 

The economy in Zimbabwe was just beginning to recover. This positive trend is now at stake. Another lockdown would be a disaster, especially in the cities. In particular, for the poor population and workers in the informal sector, another lockdown would be fatal. 

"It is clear that we need to address the pandemic globally in order to defeat it. For that, we need a fair distribution of the vaccine, it needs to be made available at an affordable price for countries like Zimbabwe. A temporary lifting of patent protection can contribute to this," says Regina Feindt.

Statement zum Coronavirus in Afrika von Mathias Mogge, CEO der Welthungerhilfe

A pandemic knows no borders – that's why solidarity should be at the heart of fighting it.

Mathias Mogge Welthungerhilfe Secretary General

Coronavirus vaccination in Africa

Vaccination against the coronavirus has been underway worldwide since the end of 2020. However, many African countries cannot afford the expensive vaccine doses. While in Europe the majority of the population is fully vaccinated, in Africa only a very small proportion is.

This unequal rollout could have a dramatic impact on the development achievements of recent decades in many countries of the Global South. It is already feared that the number of people suffering from hunger could increase by up to 130 million worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is therefore urgent that all people worldwide have access to an affordable and safe vaccine.

It is equally critical that scientific research results and technologies related to COVID-19 are made widely available. This would help ensure the global production and distribution of medicines. In addition, health and social systems must be strengthened.

Eine Frau mit Mundschutz demonstriert Schutzmaßnahmen zu Corona.
In Sierra Leone, Welthungerhilfe employee Tity Simbo Kamara explains symptoms of COVID-19 to villagers and how they can protect themselves against infection. © Welthungerhilfe

Poverty fuels the spread of COVID-19

Countries already confronted with poverty, hunger, wars, large amounts of refugees and the effects of climate change will be particularly vulnerable to coronavirus in Africa. Many people in these countries do not have sufficient access to clean water or hygiene products, meaning they are unable to properly wash their hands – a simple but highly effective preventative measure. In addition, many live in very confined spaces, which would only accelerate the spread of the infection.

A mother carrying her child.
In Africa, the coronavirus has particularly fatal consequences for people who are already confronted with poverty, hunger, wars, flight and the effects of climate change: They are less resilient to the virus. Furthermore their living situation is aggravated by the restrictions for protection against the virus, as their only sources of income are lost. In Kenya, for example, Madeline Shimuli, 22 years old, is now dependent on food aid, which she picks up at a distribution of Welthungerhilfe in the Kibera district of Nairobi. © Welthungerhilfe

A lot of people in the Global South are self-sufficient. In the evening they eat what they have worked for during the day. Not being able to do so threatens their lives. Because a large part of Africa's population works in the agricultural sector, working from home is not an option. Millions of people would suffer income losses and have no or limited access to the resources needed to get by day-to-day – such as clean drinking water and sufficient food. If any reserves stocks are available currently, they are being quickly depleted, which in a worst case scenario could lead to famine in many regions.

That a looming recession would further worsen the situation of people in many African countries is a frightening prospect. In particular, the recession will affect people with precarious employment, such day as day labourers, and employees in the service, hospitality and retail sectors.

Welthungerhilfe’s measures to combat hunger during the coronavirus crisis

One crisis after another

The health crisis could trigger a food crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic hits the poorest people hardest. In addition to short-term necessary crisis responses, long-term development measures need to remain on the agenda.

As other world events capture our collective attention, African countries continue to face a number of different crises. People in Southern Sudan or the Central African Republic, for example, have been experiencing violent conflicts for years; in Ethiopia, Kenya or Malawi, crop failures and natural disasters caused by climate change are becoming more frequent. These crises threaten to fade further into the background due to the media's focus on the COVID-19 pandemic. In many African countries, the pandemic is creating a "crisis within a crisis." 

For a large number of people in crisis-stricken African countries, the situation has deteriorated dramatically. Corona poses a particular threat to the most vulnerable – in Africa and worldwide. Donate now!

Africa's experience in dealing with epidemics: a glimmer of hope

Unfortunately, epidemics are not uncommon in Africa. For example, no fewer than 22 Ebola outbreaks have claimed over 14,000 lives since 1976. The Democratic Republic of Congo has been particularly hard hit, with over 2,000 people dying in the last major outbreak. For two years, attempts were made there to defeat the virus – with success: the Ebola outbreak in the north-east of the country was officially declared over in June 2020.

The fight against the Ebola epidemic was an important lesson in epidemic management for many African countries. In some cases, measures to contain the novel coronavirus were therefore taken more quickly than in Global North countries. 

A woman and her child at an Ebola checkpoint
A woman and her child at an Ebola checkpoint in 2014, being checked for symptoms typical of Ebola. © Daniel Pilar

Above all, the early containment of the disease is crucial in order not to overburden fragile health systems. Education plays a major role in this. During the Ebola epidemic, many people took false information on board. Only clarification from trusted persons such as teachers, pastors or community leaders helped many people to understand the disease and take precautions. 

Welthungerhilfe's efforts to fight COVID-19

From the beginning of the pandemic, Welthungerhilfe's aim was to safeguard all work processes and to continue our projects worldwide while protecting our local teams. We are continuing to work with communities to fight hunger and remain at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19.

Welthungerhilfe's teams have already gained valuable experience in dealing with epidemics during the past Ebola outbreaks in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We provided support for educational courses on the epidemic and hygiene, as well as the setting up of hygiene facilities and treatment centers.

Verschiedene Menschen waschen sich an Hygienestationen die Hände.
In Bangladesh, our partner organization Anando in the Khagrachari district demonstrates correct hand washing techniques to protect against an infection with COVID-19. © Welthungerhilfe

With a global COVID-19 programme, we and our partners are supporting five million people in 36 countries. We provide hygiene facilities and food and support people in the long term to resume their economic activities and be better equipped to withstand crises in the future. This includes investments in agriculture, water and sanitation, and support for local markets and value chains.

Support our work to counteract the dramatic consequences of Corona. Donate now and support our projects worldwide!

What Welthungerhilfe is doing to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the countries we work in

Support for local partner organisations in the creation, procurement and use of educational material such as posters, radio spots, loud speaker announcements and social media content in local languages.

An educational comic strip in over 20 languages has been distributed internationally.

COVID-19 education has been integrated into ongoing WASH projects, for example in hygiene training. New health workers have also been trained.

Construction of new water sources for drinking and hand washing, as well as hand washing stations in public places

Construction of new latrines and washing facilities. This is especially important in places with many people in a confined space (e.g. refugee camps).

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