Zambia and COVID-19

16 April 2020.

With a fragile and very limited healthcare system, there is serious concern that COVID-19 could have a catastrophic impact on lives in Zambia.

With COVID-19 particularly impacting on the elderly, Zambia’s young population may reduce fatalities, but factors like malnutrition and weakened immune systems due to high prevalence of HIV could make a significant proportion of the population very vulnerable.

Handwashing and social distancing is difficult for people living in overcrowded urban compounds with poor sanitation. In rural communities, access to clean water is not always easy.

Staying home also presents a problem. With a significant percentage of the population living in poverty, many do not have enough resources to stock-up, going out daily in order to work so they can buy food at the end of each day.

There are also serious financial concerns. According to the latest Africa’s Pulse, the World Bank’s twice-yearly economic update for the region, growth in Sub-Saharan Africa has been significantly impacted by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and is forecast to fall sharply from 2.4% in 2019 to -2.1 to -5.1% in 2020, the first recession in the region over the past 25 years.

Furthermore, Zambia’s debt crisis is escalating. In early April 2020, creditors were asked to open negotiations for restructuring.

At the moment there are few cases diagnosed and the Zambian Government moved early to restrict movement. But people are nervous and there is a high risk that the virus will take hold, like it has in so many countries across the world.

What we simply don’t know is what the impact will be. Will the peak be short and sharp or extended? How long will people be able to cope with the economic impact? We are closely monitoring these and other pertinent questions.

The next few months could bring unprecedented challenges for Zambia.