Will coronavirus pandemic reduce the health gap between Africa's elite and poor?

While the majority of Africans lack basic healthcare services, its leaders frequently travel to Europe and Asia, to seek the best medical services

Africa -- a country with 54 countries, 1.2 billion people and GDP of $2.58 trillion, is grappling with the coronavirus crisis, as is the rest of the world. A factor that sets the continent apart, is its abysmal health system.

As the common people were not provided with basic healthcare services, its leaders often flew to Europe and Asia to seek the best health facilities. With widespread travel restrictions put in place, a stark inequality, that this pandemic might be able to bridge, is in medical services to Africa's elite and common citizens.

"COVID-19 is an opportunity for our leaders to reexamine their priorities," said Livingstone Sewanyana of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (HRI), which has long urged African countries to increase health care spending, Associated Press reported.

Coronavirus in Africa

Coronavirus in Africa
Coronavirus in Africa africanarguments.org

As on Sunday, April 5, Africa has reported 8,426 cases of COVID-19, with South Africa reporting the highest number of 1,585 cases, followed closely by Egypt with 1,070 cases. Abba Kyari, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari's top-aide was declared infected.

Four government ministers in Burkina Faso have been infected by the disease. Jacques Joaquim Yhombi-Opango, former Congolese President died of the virus. With the disease spreading at a rapid pace, several countries have imposed lockdowns and travel restrictions, with 30 out of the continent's 57 international airports, now shut.

Africa's health infrastructure

The continent spends just five percent of its GDP on health, which is half than the global average. Even this money is often not spent, is diverted for other causes, or gets sucked up in corruption. According to the WHO data, several Sub-Saharan Africa nations have less than 5 hospital beds per 10,000 population, with Mali's number standing at 1. In the Horn of Africa region, Ethiopia has three hospital beds per 10,000 population.

The situation is so grim in Zimbabwe, that patients have to provide for gloves and clean water. Here, the doctors were reported using bread bags to collect patients' urine.

African leaders seek medical facilities abroad

There is a long list of African leaders who seek medical services abroad. The practise was so common that the former South African health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, who is now the country's health minister, had to scold the leaders. "We are the only continent that has its leaders seeking medical services outside the continent, outside our territory. We must be ashamed," Aaron said.

Even though travel restrictions are put in place, to curb the spread of COVID-19, but according to political analyst Alex Rusero, leaders in Africa will find a way to seek medical treatment, abroad. "They are scared of death so much they will do everything within their disposal, even if it's a private jet to a private hospital in a foreign land," Rusero said.

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