State of the EAC Health Sector Amidst the COVID-19 Crisis

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Bigirimana, Noella
Rwagasore, Edson
Condo, Jeanine
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African Economic Research Consortium
On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic with recommendations for countries to take appropriate measures to eliminate virus spread. As the pandemic continues to evolve, an estimated 156,496,592 confirmed cases and 3,264,143 deaths have been reported in more than 220 countries and territories (WHO, 2021). The COVID-19 disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus is highly transmissible from person to person, with a reproduction number, Ro, (number of additional cases resulting from initial case) estimated between 1.6 and 2.4 (Aylward & Liang, 2020). The COVID-19 burden has been asymmetrically distributed, with the Americas accounting for the greatest proportion of reported new cases, followed by Europe, South-East Asia, and Eastern Mediterranean. Africa and Western Pacific are the least affected regions (Aylward & Liang, 2020). The East African region has crossed the first year since the first cases were reported in March 2020. The region has recorded an estimated 7.3% of the cases and 4.4% of deaths reported in Africa. As of 8 May 2021, there were 246,427 confirmed COVID-19 cases across EAC countries, and among them 54,278 (22%) were active cases. There were 3,709 reported deaths in the region (EAC, 2021). Based on available records, Kenya has recorded the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the EAC region at 163,238 (66.2%), followed by Uganda at 42,308 (17.1%), Rwanda at 25,586 (10.4%), South Sudan at 10,637 (4.3%), and Burundi at 4,149 (1.7%). Tanzania’s last report on 29 April 2020 indicated 509 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 21 deaths (EAC, 2021). These moderately low numbers, compared to other regions, could be partially attributed to Africa’s young population age structure, potentially underreporting of events and low testing rates. Another factor, however, is the containment measures adopted by several EAC member states in order to mitigate the spread. The first case in the East African region was reported on 13 March 2020 in Kenya, followed by initial case reports in other EAC states the same week. The approach by most countries was to put in place enhanced measures to flatten the curve of COVID-19 transmission, including lockdown restrictions, immediate isolation of confirmed cases, quarantining close contacts of confirmed cases, contact tracing, quarantining travellers, mandatory use of face masks, and expanding testing and treatment capacities. As the virus continued to spread, EAC countries took different approaches to reducing the incidence of the pandemic.