The relatively low number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Africa has “raised hopes that African countries may be spared the worst of the pandemic”, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, while praising the continent for responding swiftly to the pandemic.
More than 2,500 have died of the coronavirus across Africa. According to a recent UN report, the virus is present in all African countries with most recording fewer than 1,000 cases.
Guterres, however, warned that millions of people in Africa could be pushed into extreme poverty due to the pandemic.
“The pandemic threatens African progress. It will aggravate long-standing inequalities and heighten hunger, malnutrition and vulnerability to disease,” Guterres said.
Since the pandemic is still in its “early days” in Africa, Guterres stressed that “disruption could escalate quickly”.
“African countries should also have quick, equal and affordable access to any eventual vaccine and treatment, that must be considered global public goods,” he said.
Among his recommendations, Guterres urged “international action to strengthen Africa’s health systems, maintain food supplies, avoid a financial crisis”.
It is also necessary, he added, to “support education, protect jobs, keep households and businesses afloat, and cushion the continent against lost income and export earnings”.
He said he was also advocating “a comprehensive debt framework – starting with an across-the-board debt standstill for countries unable to service their debt”.
The UN report said the low numbers of cases in Africa could be linked to minimal testing and reporting, pointing to a World Health Organization (WHO) warning that the pandemic “could kill between 83,000 and 190,000 people in 47 African countries in the first year, mostly depending on governments’ responses”.
WHO also warned that “the socioeconomic impacts could ‘smoulder’ for several years”, the report said.