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  • South Africa, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso are the most affected by the COVID-19.

    South Africa, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso are the most affected by the COVID-19. | Photo: EFE

Published 15 April 2020
Opinion

The fast spread of the new coronavirus is threatening to overrun and overwhelm already weak healthcare systems.

Sub-Saharan African Countries are facing a health crisis and economic downturns with consequences that could last for years as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Wednesday, warning that no country would be spared.

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So far, more than 16,000 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded across the region, including North Africa. In the Sub Saharian part of the continent, South Africa, Cameroon, and Burkina Faso are the most affected, according to the IMF.

The fast spread of the virus is threatening to overrun and overwhelm already weak healthcare systems.

"There are so many unknowns for Africa like how COVID-19 will interact with our young population, our hot weather. The governments are trying their best, but they have structural realities that make their response very difficult," United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) representative to Nigeria Mohammed Yahya told Al Jazeera.

In addition, the recent drop in oil prices has left many countries with deficits in their budgets, which is particularly worrying during a public health emergency when resources are crucial to keeping people alive. While the Official Development Assistance (ODA) from rich countries is down while debt is skyrocketing.

"It is more structural defaults that COVID-19 has exposed, such as overreliance on commodities, huge informal sectors, low tax base, and poor healthcare infrastructure," Yahya said. "There's no curve to flatten when there's no healthcare."

In its latest Regional Economic Outlook, Sub-Saharan Africa report, the IMF predicts that the region's gross domestic product (GDP) will shrink by 1.6 percent in 2020, a downward revision of 5.2 percentage points from prognostications made six months ago. 

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"Countries have been shut off capital markets - this crisis is unprecedented and calls for bold and decisive action," director of the IMF's African Department, Abebe Aemro Selassie said Wednesday during a teleconference.

The immediate priority should be increasing health spendings at all costs; despite the levels of the debt, and providing targeted cash transfers for the most vulnerable communities and hard-hit small- and medium-sized businesses.

Lockdowns and quarantines, seemingly effective in developed economies, are not possible solutions for the people who live from day to day and have limited access to social safety nets.

According to the IMF, these strict measures have endangered livelihoods throughout the continent. "Staying at home is a guarantee for hunger," said Yahya.

Yet, much of the problems endured today by Sub-Saharan Africans, including the weakness or absence of public services, are due to the vicious circle of poverty in which the region is trapped due to the loans they took from the IMF and the World Bank.

The conditions imposed by these two international organizations resulted in the privatization of the economies in Sub Saharan Africa and allowed western corporations free access to raw material, resources, and markets.

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