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Coronavirus in Africa

COVID-19 is increasing hunger levels

COVID-19 has spread almost all over the world and infected several million people. For hundreds of thousands of those infected, the disease has been fatal. That number is also rising in Africa – there are cases in almost all African countries. Additionally, the coronavirus crisis is now extending beyond just health consequences, as impoverished communities suffer from the economic downturn, with a direct effect on hunger and poverty levels.

Africa and COVID-19 – the ticking time bomb

COVID-19 cases in Africa

(As of: 15-09-2021; 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 the highly contagious delta variant is currently causing the number of cases to rise in many African countries as well. Due to the lack of available COVID-19 tests the number of unreported cases may be much higher. 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 will be particularly devastating for the poorest people. Many of them have lost their incomes due to COVID-related restrictions and in many Global South countries there is no social security system to compensate for these losses. The necessary money and structures to contain the economic impact are lacking. Economies are collapsing dramatically while food prices are rising – 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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Coronavirus, COVID-19, SARS – what are we dealing with?

Coronavirus – definition

The coronavirus is a novel pathogen that leads to a lung disease called COVID-19. The term coronavirus is actually an umbrella term; there are a number of different coronaviruses that can also lead to different diseases. Officially the current virus is called “SARS-CoV-2”. SARS stands for “Severe Acute Respiratory” Syndrome.

The origin of the novel virus has not yet been entirely determined. It is believed that the pathogen originates from bats

COVID-19: disease, symptoms and transmission

The infectious disease known as COVID-19 is a respiratory disease similar to influenza but much more contagious. Common symptoms are fever, cough, a runny nose and a sore throat. If it is a particularly severe case, it can also lead to breathing difficulties and even pneumonia. Similar to the flu, COVID-19 is mainly passed on via a so-called droplet infection.

How can I protect myself?

The best measure to protect against infection is physical distance. As there is no vaccine yet, we as a society must ensure that the spread of the virus is stopped. The German Ministry of Health also advises people to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly, not to touch their face and cough into the crook of their arm.

Diese Maßnahmen helfen gegen die Verbreitung des Coronavirus. © Welthungerhilfe
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Richtig Hände waschen hilft, die Ausbreitung des Coronavirus einzudämmen. © Welthungerhilfe
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Coronavirus: a complex crisis for the poorest people

Dramatic consequences in the countries we work in: Day labourers without work, increasing hunger, girls forced to marry younger.

read more

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 more than 50 percent of the population are already fully vaccinated, only 1.5 percent of the population in Africa is (source: WHO).

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.

Examples of measures taken in Welthungerhilfe projects

In Sierra Leone, Welthungerhilfe employee Tity Simbo Kamara explains symptoms of COVID-19 to villagers and how they can protect themselves against infection © Welthungerhilfe
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Nowhere else in Afghanistan are there more returning and internally displaced persons than in the eastern province of Nangarhar. The living conditions are precarious, shelters are overcrowded, drinking water supply and hygiene conditions are poor. Welthungerhilfe provides humanitarian aid by building 200 new shelters and repairing 800 more. Ten solar-powered water supply networks and 500 latrines are being built. In parallel to this infrastructure, hygiene training courses are being held to illustrate the link between the spread of disease and poor hygiene © Hamdard/Welthungerhilfe
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Together with our partner Ihsan, we distribute bread to civil war refugees from Idlib in northwest Syria. The organisation White Helmets is helping to disinfect the distribution site in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 © Welthungerhilfe
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In the Arua district in Uganda, with the support of the BMZ, we are distributing supplies for COVID-19 prevention, such as over 2,000 litres of liquid soap, 325 litres of disinfectant and 500 protective masks © Welthungerhilfe
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Social distancing during the distribution of hygiene materials to Southern Sudanese refugees in Uganda © Welthungerhilfe
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Pakistan is under lockdown due to COVID-19. Together with local partners, we are distributing food parcels for 8,000 people to the poorest families and day labourers in the Mardan district © Welthungerhilfe
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Mobile hygiene stations were also set up in Nepal. Here Welthungerhilfe employees are demonstrating how to wash their hands to protect against COVID-19 © Welthungerhilfe
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In Bangladesh, our partner organisation Anando in the Khagrachari district demonstrates correct hand washing technique to protect against COVID-19 infection © Welthungerhilfe
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In the Nainital district our partner organisation Lok Chetna Manch is distributing food, soap and protective masks to the poorest families during India's lockdown © Welthungerhilfe
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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. Government measures such as social distancing, quarantine or even stay-at-home orders would do more harm than good to those affected.

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

Most 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, catering 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.

For example, East Africa - particularly Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia - was hit by a huge swarm of locusts in March. Millions upon millions of insects have formed a swarm 60 kilometres long and 40 kilometres wide, eating enough food in one day to feed 35,000 people. Somalia has already declared a state of emergency.

If COVID-19 spreads in the crisis-ridden African states, the situation will worsen dramatically for a large number of people.

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. Ebola is far more infectious and deadly than SARS-CoV-2, with a mortality rate of up to 60 percent (the rate for COVID-19 is up to 3 percent).

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 pastors or community leaders helped many people to understand the disease and take precautions. 

The construction of isolated Ebola clinics also helped to achieve a breakthrough. By using this approach and providing sufficient test kits, an emerging COVID-19 epidemic in Africa could be combatted at an early stage.

Coronavirus could have dramatic consequences for Africa. Please help us to prevent them.

Welthungerhilfe's efforts to fight COVID-19

Welthungerhilfe has created a four-stage crisis plan for the new threat. The aim is 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.

Vier gezeichnete Kinder. Coronavirus comic

A comic strip created by Welthungerhilfe and Wash United is educateing children and young people in 20 languages about COVID-19 and other preventative hygiene measures.

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 centres.

With a global COVID-19 programme, we and our partners are supporting five million people in 35 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 in Africa now. COVID-19 is a great threat to a number of populations. A large-scale outbreak could cost many people their lives. Help now by supporting our projects worldwide!

Help us to help out

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 distributed internationally.

COVID-19 education is being integrated into ongoing WASH projects, for example in hygiene education courses.

New hand-washing facilities are being installed, soap is being distributed and water supplies are being secured in public places such as markets and schools.

New latrines and washing facilities are being installed. This is especially important in places with many people in a confined space (such as refugee camps).

We are providing support to facilitate the regular cleaning of existing facilities.

People in quarantine are being supplied with food.