La Croix: Your organization provides expertise to companies to protect their expatriates, business travelers and their employees working in Africa. What analysis do you make of the situation on the continent, where the Covid-19 epidemic is beginning to spread and where the worst is predicted?
Doctor Laurent Arnulf : It is difficult to speak of the “African continent” in general. With its 55 countries, its population of 1.2 billion people. There are diverse population distributions with densely populated areas like the city of Lagos, Nigeria, and others that are much less so, as in the Sahel countries.
→ ANALYSIS. Africa and the coronavirus
The coronavirus was imported late on the continent, it started less quickly than in China or Europe, but we see that the number of infected countries is increasing. In some highly populated cities, in townships in South Africa where crowding is high, the virus will spread quickly. The will to fight its spread is there, but many will not necessarily be able to cope with the great wave of the epidemic.
Are the countries that have experienced the Ebola crisis – Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia – better prepared to face the coronavirus crisis?
THE : A country like Liberia has surprisingly coped well with the Ebola crisis. Nigeria has also been able to take appropriate steps to immediately identify and isolate cases imported into Liberia from its borders. These countries may therefore be a little better prepared to face an epidemic, but the scale and speed of direct human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus is likely to turn the tide.
More generally, many Africans are listening, watching what is happening elsewhere, and learning from what happened first in China and what is happening now in Europe.
Are not certain recommendations, such as confinement at home, a challenge in Africa?
THE : Social distancing is not in the tradition of Africans, on the contrary. And in most situations, especially in villages, home confinement is almost impossible. However, certain barrier measures have already been adopted. In Chad, in the capital N’Djamena, within the authorities, we greet each other by respecting a distance of at least one meter, and hygiene advice is widely understood and respected.
And in Mauritania, where the first case of Covid-19 was imported by an Australian who had stayed in Italy, several people were very quickly put in confinement, and the government quickly decided to close schools, air traffic, the total ban on all gatherings, the closure of restaurants and cafes. He imposed a curfew. Many others have taken drastic measures, such as South Africa.
It is to be hoped that African countries quickly agree to close schools, universities, and probably their borders. It is not easy to set up, and even less in Africa because of the length and porosity of certain borders.
In most of these countries, messages on protective measures are transmitted by radio and social networks. Present in many African countries, International SOS helps governments and local NGOs by providing small guides and posters useful for the dissemination of recommendations, protocols for screening and patient management, as was the case in Liberia. for Ebola, but also by training local health professionals, public or private, as we do in Mozambique.
Many in the West fear a major humanitarian crisis on the continent, what do you think?
THE : I do not think that it is necessary to sink in advance into the outrageous catastrophism. As African populations are young, perhaps we can hope that many forms of Covid-19 will remain asymptomatic or mild. However, without angelism either, this disease will be added on the continent to the already difficult health situations in certain countries, even to the already existing humanitarian and economic crises.
Can we fear that the epidemic on the African continent, if it is not brought under control, is a threat to Europe, and should we help it?
THE : It is likely that Africa, like the rest of the world, is undergoing several waves of this pandemic which, if it is not brought under control, could in turn “recontaminate” the other continents. The challenge, when the time comes, will be to try to spread these waves as much as possible, so as not to saturate the health services of these countries, and to give States time to find and make available a vaccine against the Covid-19.
→ MAINTENANCE. Coronavirus: “In Africa, containment poses a survival problem”
But the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic in Africa will be all the more effective if the countries are developed and stable. Development aid, crucial for the medium and long term, is perhaps even more important at this time to help some countries get through the pandemic. This aid must be done through recognized governmental, international and non-governmental organizations already present on the ground, in order to avoid a certain amateurism, full of good intentions but which these countries do not need.