What Africa can teach the world about beating the coronavirus (opinion)

Recent days saw more African countries reporting cases and deaths from the virus, including in Nigeria and Zimbabwe. And the head of the World Health Organization has issued a stark warning: “Africa should wake up.”

The rise of Covid-19 comes as an outbreak of another deadly virus, Ebola, appears to be ending in Central Africa’s Democratic Republic of Congo. Those of us who have been responding to Ebola are now turning our attention, resources and expertise to Covid-19.

Our experience dealing with multiple outbreaks of Ebola offers some lessons that could be helpful in addressing Covid-19. Some of these are more specific to the African context, but most apply anywhere.

Protect health care workers. This is emerging as a major priority, as the coronavirus begins to overwhelm the health care system in the United States. Unfortunately, we saw too many cases of heroic doctors, nurses and others become infected with Ebola from the patients whose lives they were trying to save. Health care workers were 21 to 32 times more likely to contract Ebola than the general population during the West Africa Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
With this novel coronavirus, health care workers will face similar risks at work, and will likely be required in many cases to continue treating patients even without the most rudimentary protective measures. Many sub-Saharan African health systems are already severely constrained because there are not enough doctors and nurses to meet…

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