“COVID -19 And What Else – The Forgotten Health Issues In African Media During The Pandemic”

By Jessica Ahedor*

Africa is getting deeply rooted in the peril of the days of double burden of diseases as the efforts at curtailing this menace have been seriously challenged by the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, disrupting many public health systems and access to care.

The era of COVID-19 has made access to essential health service and delivery to the people difficult, especially in countries where lock-downs persist. In the case of Ghana, people suffering from other health conditions like diabetes, HIV/AIDS and malaria, among others, shy away from health facilities for fear of contracting the virus.

The advent of the pandemic has not only diverted the attention of many health systems and the media in Africa. Most health conditions which hitherto received the needed priority have been neglected as allocated resources and media publications on the continent keep dwindling.

According to the latest World Malaria Report 2021, in 2020, an estimated 241 million cases of malaria were recorded worldwide compared to 227 million cases in 2019, representing an increase of 14 million new cases from 2019 to 2020.

However, the African region recorded 96 per cent of malaria deaths – about 602,000 people died from malaria with under -five children accounting for 80 percent of these deaths. This makes the African Region to bear a huge share of the global malaria burden.

Six countries in Africa contributed to more than half of malaria deaths in 2020 globally. These countries include Nigeria (27%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (12%), Uganda (5%), Mozambique (4%), Angola (3%) and Burkina Faso (3%).

Mojeed Alabi, head of development desk at Premium Times, Nigeria, opined that the pandemic has compelled the world to look away from other issues affecting people’s health. As a result, the news media succumb to the pressures of cacophony on COVID, to the neglect of various conditions especially non-communicable diseases.

While pointing out that the implications of neglecting other conditions affecting people’s health by the media and various governments in the face of the pandemic “is the upsurge we see now,” Alabi stressed that “it is incumbent on us to drum – home these issues as they are even killing our people more than COVID.”

In a publication by Brent Burkholder et al 2021, these16 Africa countries, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Zambia, are still experiencing outbreaks of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV).  Paving way for the spread of another strain of the virus – type 2 – across these African countries, leaving more than170 children paralyzed yearly in Ghana.

The challenge mainly is that most health systems are donor- driven, so as the pandemic hit, these donors are forced to concentrate on their counties before looking elsewhere, says Koku Awonoor –Williams, a former Director of monitoring, planning and evaluation at the Ghana Health Service. Going forward, Ghana and other countries have to take a clue from that and build health systems for days like this, he added.

Again, UNICEF’s latest report on fighting polio in COVID -19 pandemic, said “the fight against polio is far from over.” After the Ghana Health Service and its partners struggled to hit their set target of 4.5 million children for vaccination because of resistance, challenges in accessing communities and low immunization coverage in other parts of the region.

On cholera cases, the World Health Organization, WHO, has stated that 14 million people live in cholera hotspots in Nigeria. The Central and West Africa case fatality rate, CFR, rose from 1.8 per cent in 2019 to 2.1 per cent. At the country level, from 2019 to 2020, cholera CFR rose by 2.2 per cent in Benin, 0.4 per cent in Cameroon, 1.2 per cent in Liberia, and 3.5 per cent in Nigeria.

This, Abdoulaye Bousso, Director of Emergency Operations, Ministry of Health, Senegal explained that Senegal has learned from the Ebola crisis that has ravaged the country’s health system. As a result, the government had to invest its resources into the country’s health system. “Little did we know that we were preparing for a bigger pandemic compared to Ebola. Senegal has learned from the Ebola outbreak and prepared its health systems so when COVID struck, it was easy for us to handle because we have already strengthened our system.” This is what we did right, he added.

In West Africa, other conditions like Lassa fever claim 5,000 lives annually. The overall case fatality rate is one percent while observed case-fatality rate among patients hospitalized with severe cases of Lassa fever is 15 percent. In areas like Sierra Leone, Liberia, Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and Mali, Lassa fever is having serious impact on productivity.  But experts say during the pandemic, these cases decreased due to low turn-out, suggesting that many cases are going underreported within communities.

Reference

The immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on polio immunization and surveillance activities

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264410X21013475

**Culled from February Issue of PAV Magazine

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