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  • Writer's pictureJessica Halliday

Let's mask together

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

COVID-19 is the virus that has changed our world. It is known in every part of the world, in every language, in every culture. Yet we don't all know this virus in the same way. For parts of the world such as Africa that were already facing significant disadvantage prior to this pandemic, it is only intensifying pre-existing issues. It is putting added strain on a continent that was already fighting war, climate change, poverty and disease at unfathomable rates. Now it's being asked to face a virus that even our first world countries are struggling to contain.

Just imagine trying to protect yourself from this virus without the safeguards of Australia? Without clean running water, without social distancing, without having the option to wear a mask? Without access to medical advice, free COVID testing and government assistance schemes? This is the reality for many African countries, and the comparative difference in how we are all facing this pandemic is vastly different.

While it is being reported that Africa has relatively low COVID-19 cases compared to other parts of the world, it is estimated that only 0.1% of the population has been tested. This is a continent that houses over 1.346 billion people, yet only 0.1% of the population has been tested. Without higher testing numbers, there is no way to determine if the current data is correct and no way of knowing the true extent of cases in Africa.

What's leading to this troubling statistic is Africa's limited access to diagnostic testing kits compared to that in other places such as Australia and the current $80 to $100USD cost to African citizens to have these tests done. If this availability was to be made more accessible and identified cases were to rise in Africa, The World Economic Forum advises that; family clustering, low health literacy, infodemic, existing poverty and bans on international travel would contribute to a poorer response.

Africa's ability to respond to cases at a critical and severe level would also not suffice. We know from cases here in Australia that critical and severe cases require ICU and ventilation support. Africa, however, has the lowest capacity to provide this type of care with the World Health Organisation accounting that there are only 2,000 ventilators across 41 countries of the 54 country continent. That means that in some areas there are very few or no ventilators at all. Medical training, faulty equipment and an inability to set up adequate isolation wards would also contribute to a weaker response.

The current measures in place right now of lockdowns, stay at home strategies and border closures have halted education and business activities within Africa. While this has happened in Australia too, the time length in Africa has been significantly longer, and the already evident educational and economic gaps between first world countries and third world countries particularly Africa has grown even greater.

Education facilities in Africa have been closed since March with this set to continue till at least December. Unlike Australia, this learning can't be substituted for online classes either. Business's have been forced to close without any financial support been given by the Government like the Job Keeper scheme or the Coronavirus Supplement we have in Australia. The non-operational status of these facilities has also lead to higher congestion in both rural and city areas which we know makes implementing social distance measures even tougher.

Desperation to provide everyday items at this time, such as food, is leading to these precautionary measures being broken and an increase in illegal activity and corruption. Increased price hikes for masks and sanitiser have been reported with many being forced to go without or make their own out of basic available resources such as leaves. It is also being reported that PPE equipment is being kept for private use and not being made public.

These are troubling times across the world, but for some, the extent and further inequality it creates is far greater. Here in Australia, we are told that COVID-19 will end when a vaccine is discovered and that this vaccine will be available for free to all Australian's. But how do you end COVID in countries that don't even have the most minimal of support mechanisms in place to cope with this crisis, let alone overcome it?

There is only one way to do that, and that is by ensuring those most at risk and most vulnerable are provided a helping hand. You can do this by making a regular or once off donation to Generosity Abroad. Your generous contributions will ensure the urgent needs of African people are met both during this crisis and ongoing so that we can all come out of this pandemic together. Humanity has never been more critical, it is time that we all mask together.

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