‘African cities epidemiological focus for COVID-19 spread’

Cities in Africa are epidemiological focus for COVID-19 spread, making containment and response measures considerably more difficult, a new United Nations (UN) report said.

The report, entitled “COVID-19 in African Cities: Impacts, Responses and Policies”, was jointly published by the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the UN Habitat, the UN Capital Development Fund, the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa, as well as the African Development Bank, on Wednesday. 

It analysed the COVID-19 situation on the African continent and efforts channeled at mitigating the pandemic within the context of cities in the region.

“African cities are epidemiological focus for COVID-19. The quality and nature of Africa’s urbanisation exacerbates transmission rates of infectious diseases like COVID-19 and makes containment and response measures considerably more difficult,” the report said. 

It said COVID-19 risk factors are acute in African cities in part due to the largely unplanned and poorly managed urbanisation process that resulted in widespread informal settlements and severe infrastructure and service deficits.

Africa is now experiencing the most rapid urban growth in the world, and the continent’s urban population increased more than 10 times in six decades, from 53 million in 1960 to 588 million in 2020. In 2019, about 257 million people, or 47 per cent of Africa’s urban population, lived in slums or informal settlements. Only 55 per cent and 47 per cent of Africa’s urban residents have access to basic sanitation services and hand-washing facilities respectively, according to the report. 

It said most urban residents rely on the informal sector, which employs 71 per cent of Africans, making them highly vulnerable to loss of income and unable to abide by restrictions and lockdown measures.

High population densities, coupled with overcrowded public transport and marketplaces, make social distancing almost impossible, the report said.

These factors combined make Africa’s cities hotbeds for COVID-19, it said. 

COVID-19 has adversely impacted African cities in many ways, with low ratios of health professionals and hospital beds and most of its stock of pharmaceuticals being imported, making health systems highly constrained to respond to the pandemic, the report said. 

To adequately address the challenges of COVID-19, the report proposed five recommendations, including applying local communication and community engagement strategies, and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the informal economy. -Xinhua

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