African Union (AU) Member States responded quickly to COVID-19 with public health and social measures (PHSMs)—the most effective tools for combating a rapidly spreading infectious disease in the absence of effective treatments or vaccines—and this has given them an early advantage in suppressing the virus. But humankind’s struggle with the microbe will be a marathon, not a sprint, and AU Member States are facing a crisis that will continue to unfold over many months.
In this report, the Partnership for Evidence-Based Response to COVID-19 (PERC), a consortium of global public health organizations and private sector firms, brings together findings from a survey conducted March 29-April 17, 2020 in 28 cities across 20 AU Member States, along with epidemiological measures of disease transmission and indicators of population movements and unrest, among others. Synthesized, these data provide a first-of-its-kind snapshot of baseline conditions in Africa during this rapidly evolving pandemic.
At this early phase of the pandemic, the surveyed populations exhibit many similarities, both in terms of their general knowledge about the virus and their attitudes toward government responses. But as the number of people infected increases and governments respond differently, these populations may diverge in their levels of adherence to PHSMs.
Most AU Member States implemented PHSMs swiftly, while recorded caseloads were still low, but mobility data reveal differences in the speed with which people adhered to restrictions. People currently support PHSMs, but that consensus may be weak. A large share of the population anticipate that a prolonged quarantine would result in food insecurity and grave financial hardship.
If governments do not adapt PHSMs to local needs and mitigate their most serious adverse effects, adherence to the measures will deteriorate and AU Member States risk unrest and violence. The proliferation of peaceful protests demanding government relief is evidence of the strain some people are already under and highlights gaps in current responses.
It is crucial that Member States continue to monitor and act on a variety of data to inform the public health and social measures they implement. There is still much to learn about COVID-19 and Member States need to continue to share what they’ve learned with the global community. The Partnership for Evidence-Based Response to COVID-19 will regularly update these analyses, producing a weekly summary of key indicators, and updated regional data on a rolling basis. AU Member State briefings with more detailed data are available here.
- While caseloads remain low, build public health capacity to test, trace, isolate, and treat cases—the necessary foundation for reopening society.
- Monitor data on how PHSMs meet local COVID-19 conditions and needs, and to determine when and how to lift them in a way that balances lives and livelihoods.
- Engage communities to adapt PHSMs to the local context and effectively communicate about risk to sustain public support, achieve widespread adherence, and shield vulnerable populations.