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What Covid-19 has Revealed about the Way Africa’s Risk Profile is Measured

We’re all familiar with the maps that show Africa in red, Europe and North America in green, some of Asia and South America in orange. From analysis of corruption to disaster preparedness and assessing development indicators, they all appear to point to one conclusion – that the vast majority of African countries are riskier than the rest of the world. As a result, when Covid-19 struck in early 2020, the first thought when it came to Africa was one of dread. The first Global Health Security (GHS) Index was jointly published in October 2019 by Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Policy, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and the Economist Intelligence Unit, and had a panel of well-regarded international experts to oversee it. It set out to establish “the state of international capability for preventing, detecting, and rapidly responding to epidemic and pandemic threats”. The index ranked Equatorial Guinea as worst prepared out of 195 countries (16.5 points out of a possible 100), while the United States (83.5), UK (77.9), and the Netherlands (75.6) were best prepared. The best ranked African country was South Africa, at 34th, followed by Kenya at 55th. China was ranked 51st. By March 2020, experts were confounded by the early lack of Covid-19 cases in Africa. What is often not mentioned is that fast, decisive action was the key commonality of Africa’s initial response. Only 10 African countries account for over 80% of cases and deaths on the continent to date. Yet, as in March 2020, these 10 countries are not the ones at the bottom of the GHS ranking; they are closer to the top. The worst African performers are not the usual countries in red that we see on the maps.