The U.S.’s failure to prepare adequately for the spread of Covid-19, and the confused messaging from Donald Trump, has meant the U.S. is a weak link in the world health system, making it more difficult to fight the disease globally. “I expected America to stand strong against this pandemic, but they failed the world — that’s my clear assessment,” an Ethiopian health official, who asked not to be named, told The Intercept. “The international community should stand in solidarity” but instead the pandemic was viewed initially as China’s loss and America’s gain, he added.
Africa’s strong response might not be able to hold on for much longer, however, as new cases have shown up in Ghana, Gabon, Guinea, Rwanda, and Kenya. Sudan’s first case was tested positive posthumously, indicating that the disease was already there and spreading unchecked for multiple weeks. Ethiopia’s first case, confirmed Friday, was a Japanese man coming from Burkina Faso, making it the first case of cross-continental transmission. It also means there’s likely more unreported cases in Burkina Faso, which does not have the resources that Senegal has and is fighting an insurgency that has crippled its state.
“We are now working under the assumption that it’s already here,” the Ethiopian health official said. Although Ethiopia has up to 10 laboratories capable of testing for coronavirus, the official said, “the number of tests we have is very, very disappointing. It’s maybe 40 or 50.” There are only 200 intensive care units in the capital, Addis Ababa, he added.
Most countries’ monitoring of temperatures has been limited to airports. Higher rates of autoimmune conditions like HIV in southern Africa will put many at risk, while overall, health systems on the continent remain fragile. A serious outbreak will be a major challenge because of a likely difficulty in scaling up intensive care units and ventilators; countries in Africa will likely look to China, the U.S., and WHO for help.
“Whether it’s Nigeria or New England, without resources already in place, it’s really, really hard to scale up quickly,” Spencer explained. “Despite the compounding inequalities between global north and global south, we still have a lot of commonalities in that there are gaps in our preparedness and weaknesses in our health systems that pandemics can take advantage of.”