OPINION: Africa should draw lessons from China’s handling of Covid-19

Tuesday March 31 2020


By Abdulrahman K. Said

The viral infection Covid-19 is ravaging the world, and had by Monday, March 30, 2020 killed about 34,000 people since it broke out last December. The illness caused by the novel coronavirus was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in the central province of Hubei in December 2019.

Initially, China was almost constantly in the news as the epicentre of the outbreak.  Some 3,300 people died from the virus in China, where about 81,000 people were infected.

From January up to early February, China was virtually the only country that was being associated with Covid-19, but fast-forward to March, and global attention on the outbreak in the world’s second largest economy seems like a distant memory.

China has contained Covid-19 with stunning efficiency following the largest mobilisation in response to a health crisis the world has ever seen. An inter-agency task force mechanism consisting of over 30 government departments was established to coordinate a nation-wide response.

Needless to say, attention is now focused elsewhere.  In fact, the centre of attention is now Western Europe, in Italy to be precise, where the disease killed 10,800 people within just two months since the first case was reported.  The death tolls in both Italy and Spain, where 6,800 people have died, have surpassed that in China by far.

Even the United States with its much-vaunted healthcare network has not been spared, and the Trunp administration is now under fire for its poor and indifferent response to the outbreak, which has so far killed 2,400 people in the US..


The disease has also broken out in Africa, where it had killed 135 people as of Monday, March 30. Not surprisingly, anxiety is running high, mainly in view of the continent’s fragile healthcare delivery systems.

While no African country has at its disposal the kind of resources China has, the way China handled and contained the Covid-19 outbreak in that country offers the continent some valuable lessons.

I don’t expect any African country, or even the US for that matter, to build a fully-equipped, state-of-the-art 1,000-bed hospital within six days in response to an outbreak of Covid-19, but some of the most effective measures taken by China don’t require an affected country to be a rich as the Asian economic giant.

One of these is strict and no-nonsense enforcement of measures aimed at curbing an outbreak. Heavy sacrifices have to be made in containing an outbreak of a disease that is as infectious and serious as Covid-19.

Lockdowns and even shutdowns in some instances may be imposed to curb the spread of highly infectious diseases such as Covid-19.  Such measures may be highly inconvenient and disruptive, but at the end of the day the advantages outweigh the disadvantages as far as putting outbreaks under control is concerned.

Another attribute that does not require a country to be particularly rich is patriotism.  This was not in short supply among Chinese doctors and other health workers even when the Covid-19 outbreak seemed to be getting out of control in China.  The massive effort involved at least 330 medical teams comprising a mind-boggling 41,600 health workers from across China, who raced against the clock to assist Hubei Province and Wuhan in particular.

It was a matter of putting their own lives on the line to save the lives of others. It’s no wonder then that Chinese health workers have been hailed as the true heroes and heroines of the country’s successful campaign to put the Covid-19 outbreak under control.

As African countries battle Covid-19 outbreaks, they need to draw lessons from the Chinese example.

l also hope that the Chinese will put their experience to good use by helping other countries, particularly African nations, fight Covid-19 in the coming weeks and months.  It is heartening to note that donations aimed at shoring up the campaign against the spread of the disease have already begun arriving in Africa from China.

Africa needs to be resilient and follow the laid-down protocols to the letter to overcome Covid-19, which is already having a profound impact on the continent.


The author is a commentator on socioeconomic issues based in Dar es Salaam