The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ignite fresh concerns over the handling of the global health crisis.
The impact remains enormous, un-bargained, yet unforgettable—be it on economy, healthcare, education, politics or policy formation. Like ‘developed’ countries, the reality of the pandemic in Africa cannot be overemphasized.
Recent statistics from Africa’s Pulse—the World Bank’s biannual analysis on sub-Saharan Africa’s financial, macroeconomic and welfare outlook—provides that the pandemic has caused the region’s first recession in 25 years. There has been a sharp decline in economic growth, from 2.4 percent in 2019 to between -2.1 and -5.1 percent in 2020.
This drop may be connected to the over reliance of African countries on export commodities, whose prices have been in a free fall since the start of coronavirus. In Nigeria, for instance, the pandemic has largely affected the country’s once vibrant trade and value chain, foreign investment and financial inflows.
Prior to this, Nigeria—a mono-economic country largely dependent on oil—was desperately struggling with weak recovery occasioned by the 2014 drop in global oil prices. This had plunged the gross domestic product (GDP) to around 2.3% in 2019; and today, the country’s worrisome debt profile has come face to face with a more daunting economic challenge.
Sadly, Nigeria’s oil revenue target in the first quarter of 2020 plunged from N125.52 billion to N940.91 billion. According to the country’s Finance Minister, Mr. Zainab Ahmed, this will disrupt the government’s efforts to fight Nigeria’s high poverty and unemployment rate. While the former is currently at 40 percent, the latter is projected to reach 49.5 percent by December 2020.
The economic reality of Nigeria corroborates recent predictions made by the World Bank of an imminent recession by August 2020. This will only multiply the misery of the poor, as economic and financial watchers warn that the Nigerian economy may not survive the shock of another recession.
The government’s resources are under strain. However, Nigeria’s private sector—one of the most affluent in Africa—has for now stepped in with significant contributions to the government, to cushion the impact of the pandemic on the people and the economy.
When the pandemic hit Nigeria by mid-March, the country’s central bank announced a N1 trillion-stimulus package. Shortly thereafter, the government asked the National Assembly—Nigeria’s bicameral legislature—to approve a N500 billion intervention fund. The government also withdrew US$150 million from Nigeria’s sovereign wealth fund and has indicated that it will raise US$6.9 billion from multilateral institutions to alleviate the suffering of the people. But, there are concerns that COVID-19 may amplify corruption, since Nigeria’s institutions are lacking in both transparency and accountability.
Covid-19 and Nigeria’s healthcare
The suffering of Nigeria’s population is not all there is to the crisis occasioned by the pandemic. Of particular concern is its disruptive impact on routine medical services and the healthcare system. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 171,000 children, or 950 daily, may die in Nigeria in the next six months due to this disruption.
Recent reports by the Partnership for Evidence Based Response (PERC) indicate that the early action by African governments lowered the transmission in some countries. However, the Nigerian government’s rapid response to the outbreak through passenger screenings at international airports and seaports—nearly a month before the first case was detected in Lagos—did not yield the desired results.
As of 20 June, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa was at 287,488 with at least 7,706 deaths and a total recovery of 132,948 cases. According to health experts, these figures are not currently at its peak. The World Health Organization estimates that the pandemic is likely to kill between 83,000 to 190,000 people in no fewer than 47 African countries depending on the response of respective governments.
The impact of the deadly virus has posed a new threat to Nigeria’s health workers and the existing health system. This is taking place while the sector continues to face inadequate health facilities, brain drain, shortage of personnel and medical equipment especially in rural areas.
In 2001, African heads of government converged in Abuja—Nigeria’s capital city—and agreed that a minimum of 15% of the national budget should be channeled into the health sector. This is a far cry from Nigeria’s present health budget, which has hovered around 3.9% in the last three years.
Interestingly, the pandemic seems to have caused a slight change in the health sector as the government and private individuals are making frantic efforts to improve the situation. For now medical tourism has been completely shut out, hence becoming the last hope for all Nigerians regardless of status. The failure of successive governments to take healthcare seriously stares everyone in the face, as the pandemic continues to take its toll.
In the midst of this dilemma, there are a good number of people calling for research and acceptance of herbal solutions. Over the last few months, claims of a COVID-19 cure has been made by several local scientists. But, only three herbal cures have been validated by the Presidential Task Force on Coronavirus and forwarded to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration (NAFDAC) to examine whether they are safe for human consumption. This is not to say that Nigeria has found a cure yet.
For what is indeed a new normal globally, the situation remains a threat to human existence, and no one knows when and how this nightmare would end. COVID-19 will go down in history as a game-changer: one which governments across the world must carefully handle, especially as they gradually re-open their economies.