A Research Agenda on the Sexual and Reproductive Health Dimensions of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Africa

A Research Agenda on the Sexual and Reproductive Health Dimensions of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Africa
A Research Agenda on the Sexual and Reproductive Health Dimensions of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Africa

This classic commentary was written by Dr. Babatunde Ahonsi a Resident Representative, United Nations Population Fund (China) and Country Director (Mongolia), and Assistant Editor, African Journal of Reproductive Health.

In the author’s own words: the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, was first reported in Wuhan in Hubei province of China in December 2019. It has since spread across the world, and as of 30th March 2020 reached over 150 countries, with a total of 693,224 confirmed cases and 33,106 deaths. Of these totals, 42 countries in Africa had reported 3,486 confirmed cases and 60 deaths. The epicenter of the epidemic has shifted several times since mid-February 2020 from China to Iran, and then to Western Europe (Italy and Spain in particular), and is presently in the United States of America. The expectation is that the next big waves of infections will be in Africa and South America.

In the absence of an effective therapy or vaccine and without pre-existing immunity there are several reasons to anticipate more severe adverse consequences of large outbreaks of COVID-19 in Africa including for the sexual and reproductive health of vulnerable women and young people. The high burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases like malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, Lassa fever and diabetes as well as weak and under-resourced health systems, high levels of poverty, poor housing, limited access to clean water and sanitation, inadequate transport and energy infrastructure, and high population mobility would inevitably result in far more devastating economic, social and health fall-outs from the pandemic in Africa.

This near-inevitability of disproportionate COVID-associated social, health and economic adversities even if some African countries end up with relatively small total numbers of confirmed cases is because the huge health system deficits, weak national economies, and lower standards of living far outweigh all of the hypothesized advantages from having younger populations and hotter climatic conditions.