With a population of about 1.3 billion people and vast natural resources, Africa has tremendous opportunity to enhance its social, political, and economic development. These opportunities, however, are matched with significant structural challenges in healthcare. For example, sub-Saharan Africa carries 23% of the global disease burden, yet only accounts for 1% of global health expenditure.
While COVID-19 has primarily affected the Global North since its emergence, epidemiological models suggest the outbreak may accelerate in Africa, presenting a particular threat given its health systems are less equipped than others. As governments and health authorities across the continent strive to limit widespread infections, scaling up investment is vital. As stated by African and European leaders in a recent joint article, “only a global victory that fully includes Africa can bring this pandemic to an end.”
Investing in developing and deploying innovations made for African contexts is a crucial part of a successful global response. African innovators across sectors are driving promising efforts. For instance, in Kenya, 3D printing companies are designing and producing personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical equipment to address shortages. Nigerian fashion designers are bringing glamour to masks to help raise awareness around social distancing. In Senegal, the Institute Pasteur in Dakar is partnering with the UK-based company Mologic to develop a faster, cheaper coronavirus test. Globally, scientists and innovators are collaborating at a landmark pace to develop new tools from vaccines and therapeutics to diagnostics and digital health applications – and it will be essential that these tools are created or adapted in ways that are suitable for different African settings.
Still, the challenge at hand remains unprecedented. There is a need, and an opportunity, for every individual, community and field to play a role, including Africans in the diaspora.