The global scramble to thwart the coronavirus has a vast blind spot: sub-Saharan Africa.
In Tanzania, the government outlawed coronavirus testing and declared its national outbreak defeated, even as hundreds of people died monthly from unexplained respiratory problems. In Zambia, 28 people died at home on a single July day with Covid-19-like symptoms while waiting to be tested. In South Sudan, government forces barricaded thousands of people inside refugee camps, claiming they were infected but refusing to conduct tests.
A lack of testing capacity, limited access to data and secretive governments across Africa have made it appear as if many of the world’s most impoverished economies have avoided the worst effects of a disease. Data on the virus’s spread across the continent is woefully limited. Sub-Saharan Africa’s 46 nations, with a population of a billion people, have conducted a total of 6.3 million coronavirus tests. New York State, with a population of 20 million, has conducted eight million tests.