African countries at highest risk when the coronavirus spreads

The novel coronavirus, now officially called coronavirus disease (COVID-19), has spread to 30 countries. With the patterns of air travel from airports and the capacity of the country to detect and respond to cases, a new study found that Egypt, Algeria, and South Africa are at the highest risk of the coronavirus disease outbreak.

A team of researchers at the Sorbonne Université in France wanted to determine which countries are most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus 2019 epidemic that has so far killed more than 2,100 and infected a whopping 75,778 people, mostly in mainland China. Local cycle transmissions have occurred in 12 countries, and the World Health Organization (WHO) fears that if the virus spread to countries whose healthcare system isn’t ready for an outbreak, it would be catastrophic.

The new findings, published in the journal The Lancet, estimate the preparedness and vulnerability of African countries, as well as the likelihood of importing COVID-19 cases from China. Country preparedness includes health system capacity, and vulnerability involves environmental, demographic, socioeconomic, and political conditions that could impact a country’s ability to respond to an outbreak.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE
Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE -

African countries should prepare

The results of the study show the possibility of COVID-19 spread in Africa, which was badly struck by the Ebola virus disease outbreak in 2014 to 2016, taking the lives of 11,310 people and infecting 28,616 people in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Across the globe, the Ebola virus disease has spread to other countries, with 36 cases and 15 deaths.

The researchers call for increased resources, surveillance, and capacity building in African countries with a moderate risk of importing cases of COVID-19, as these countries are approximated to be ill-prepared to detect cases and limit transmission.

This happened during the Ebola virus disease outbreak when the cases were already widespread before they were able to detect the outbreak. Many of the patients did not seek medical help during the disease phase, causing the spread of the virus to families and communities.

The team found that Algeria, Egypt, and South Africa had the highest risk of importing COVID-19, but they are also the ones most prepared to face an outbreak. The most vulnerable nations include Ethiopia and Nigeria.

Further, the team found that though the estimated overall risk of importing COVID-19 cases to Africa is lower than to Europe, with 1 percent and 11 percent of people traveling from China to these countries, respectively. However, the response and reaction capacity and health care services are better in Europe than in Africa, which has limited resources.

“Many countries in Africa are stepping up their preparedness to detect and cope with COVID-19 importations. Resources, intensified surveillance, and capacity building should be urgently prioritized in countries with a moderate risk that might be ill-prepared to detect imported cases and to limit onward transmission,” the team concluded in the study.

Top priority countries

The World Health Organization (WHO) cited 13 top priority countries based on the volume of travel to China, which included African countries, such as Algeria, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Africa. Egypt has reported its first case of COVID-19 on Feb. 14.

Meanwhile, the WHO is ramping up novel coronavirus preparedness efforts in Africa, to reduce the risk of its spread there since the continent is not fully prepared for an outbreak with great magnitude. Also, the WHO urges all countries to prepare for containment, including early detection, active surveillance, isolation and case management, contact tracing, and prevention of the spread of the virus.

The WHO has declared the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.  Local transmission outside China is reported in countries like France, Germany, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Spain, Vietnam, the UK, the USA, and the United Arab Emirates.


World Health Organization (WHO). (2020). WHO ramps up preparedness for novel coronavirus in the African region.

Journal reference:

Gilbert, M., Pullano, G., Pinotti, D., Valdano, E., and Poletto, C., et al. (2020). Preparedness and vulnerability of African countries against importations of COVID-19: a modeling study. The Lancet.

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Written by

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.


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