Updated: What are African billionaires doing about the coronavirus?

Until only a few days ago, COVID-19 wasn’t really an ‘African problem’. As of now, three cases of infection have been officially recorded in Africa; one in Egypt, one in Algeria and one in Nigeria, with no deaths. These numbers compared to the over 86,000 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths reported in 60 countries across the globe is bewildering to many experts who believe Africa has incapacitated health systems and personnel competent of managing the virus.

Some credit sub Saharan governments for preparing in advance for the likely pandemic spread. For about a month now, health workers and agencies have worked in sync to implement precautionary measures across several African countries. Because of the continent’s large population and it’s commercial ties with China, Africa was top of the list of places at risks of a uncontrollable widespread. Although what seems to be the bone of contention is whether coronavirus can be effectively handled if more cases spring up, especially in African countries with weaker medical facilities. 

Since the beginning of this alarming 2020 episodes, billionaires, celebrities, philanthropists and giant corporations from around the world have rallied together to offer massive support in preventing and controlling the deadly disease. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged a $100 million support grant, Alibaba founder Jack Ma also donated $14.4 million from his own charity. The National Basketball Association committed $1.4 million in cash and supplies to charities in the Hubei province, where the outbreak began and Boeing shipped 250,000 masks to frontline staff involved in saving the world from the plague.

The World Health Organisation says the Coronavirus isn’t a pandemic yet.

This is just a small fraction of response that global bigwigs have pulled in the last few weeks since the outbreak. The aids go to support NGOs, develop more state-of-the-art medical facilities and fund researches aimed at finding the COVID-19’s cure. The reasoning behind this aligns with the famous old saying ‘Prevention is better than cure’. But it could also be grounded in the own quest to save their own Fortune 500 companies and less of the world. 

In Africa, where there are 20 billionaires with a combined net worth of $73.4 million, we’re yet to hear of any major charitable developments from the men who run the bulk of the economy. Far before the first confirmed case in the continent, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation already announced that Africa will benefit $20 million out of the $100 million global response fund. The aid was proposed to help “strengthen detection, isolation and treatment efforts; protect at-risk populations; and develop vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.” The UK based Wellcome Trust also announced a $13 million support grant right after. 

There’s only limited information about how much African governments are channeling into battling coronavirus, but one thing is certain, it takes more than the government to battle the looming pandemic. Resource constraints and underutilization of funds are potential problems. More money needs to be spent to protect the health workers and the region needs more laboratory capacity to be able to test for the virus.

One report coming out of China claimed 40 health care workers in a single hospital had been infected with the virus.

Health care facilities need to be equipped, supplied and the health workers trained on how to prevent the spread of infection within facilities, both from patient to patient and from patient to health care worker. Sensitization programs need to be spring up to control panic and disrupt fake news, a phenomenon that poses a great threat to crisis management. 

It’s not too much to ask that Africa’s richest men get actively involved in helping governments set up the right infrastructure and equipping health workers with everything they need to end the virus, if the need be. It’s time to put their money to use in for a good course as their western counterparts have. This call is as relevant to Aliko Dangote as it is to Naguib Sawiris. 

4-March-2020: Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote has just committed 200 million naira to contain the spread in Nigeria. Ms Zouera Youssoufou, Chief Executive Officer of the Aliko Dangote Foundation said that N124 million has been earmarked to support facilities that would assist prevent, assess and respond to health events at Points of Entry to ensure National Health Security. Other areas the foundation is supporting include surveillance and epidemiology, where facilities worth N36 million will be provided by the foundation to support government’s effort. She said that the foundation would also donate N48 million for case management and training of health workers.

Richard Ogundiya

Journalist & Techpreneur. Africa, communications and data.

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