COVID’s Aftershocks: Africa’s record COVID-19 death rate and an impending ‘orphan crisis’

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A roundup of the latest news, stats, and analysis of COVID-19’s impact in Africa. View our data tracker and sign up for our weekly newsletter, and read on for the impact of the pandemic on global education, Africa’s record COVID-19 death rate, and warnings of an impending “orphan crisis.”

Top news

COVID-19 updates

Grim milestone: This week, Africa’s daily death COVID-19 rate tipped over the peak reached in January. ONE’s COVID-19 Africa Tracker shows that in the week to 26 July, more people died per day from COVID-19 than at any other point in the pandemic. It’s another grim milestone in the third wave of infections engulfing the continent.

Left behind: For every two adults that die from COVID-19, a child loses a caregiver. By the end of June 2021, nearly 2 million children under age 18 had lost a mother, father, and/or grandparent caregiver who lived in their household. At this rate, one child is orphaned every 12 seconds due to the pandemic. The World Bank has warned that this “orphan crisis” will have untold economic, developmental, and psychological impacts that will “reverberate across generations.” South Africa had the second highest rate of all countries included in the study, with 5.1 children in every thousand losing a familial caregiver.

Two-track recovery: Vaccine inequity is undermining the global economic recovery, with lasting and profound impacts on low- and lower-middle income countries. Low-income countries would add $38 billion to their GDP forecast for 2021 if they had the same vaccination rate as high-income countries, according to new WHO data. Currently, less than 1% of low- and middle-income countries’ populations are vaccinated; this is causing a two track recovery, with poorer countries unlikely to return to pre-COVID-19 growth levels until 2024.

Scaling up: The EU and its member states – aka “Team Europe” – are set to donate more than 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to low- and middle-income countries by the end of 2021 through COVAX. This exceeds the initial target of 100 million doses set in May. The UK also announced it was sharing 9 million doses with Indonesia, Jamaica, and Kenya — which sounded great, until we learned they are about to expire.

Local booster: Africa must emulate India and produce more of its own vaccines. Strive Masiyiwa, special envoy on vaccine access for the African Union, said that “when we got into trouble this time, it was because there was no production from the African continent.” Africa currently imports 99% of all vaccines administered on the continent, not just those for COVID-19. Masiyiwa warned vaccine suppliers that if they “want a long-term future with us,” they should manufacture their products on the continent.

Rapid progress (finally): Africa could soon have more affordable and accessible COVID-19 rapid testing, following tech transfer deals to boost production in Africa. Two manufacturers, Unitaid and FIND, have announced three technology transfer agreements that could lower the cost of COVID-19 rapid tests in Africa to as low as $2. Currently, Africa has some of the lowest testing rates in the world, meaning many cases are likely going undetected.

Global Education Summit falls $1 billion short

Travesty: The $4 billion raised at the Global Education Summit may look good on paper, but the pledges fall short of the summit’s target of at least $5 billion over the next five years. ONE’s Africa Executive Director Edwin Ikhouria called it “a decidedly underwhelming result.” The summit was billed as a key moment for the global community to come together and support quality education for all children, aiming to address the financing gap to provide education to all children by 2030, which UNESCO says amounts to $39 billion annually.

Kenyatta stands tall: Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta stands 10 cm taller than his co-host, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Metaphorically, that gap widened further today. Nineteen heads of state from around the world led by Kenyatta pledged $196 billion in domestic financing for education. With COVID-19 setting back learning for millions of children, it’s good to see leadership coming from somewhere.

Lost potential: Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was facing a global learning crisis. In 2019, 90% of 10-year-old children in low-income countries could not read and understand a simple story. In some countries, like Niger, less than 1% of children had foundational literacy skills by their 10th birthday, a critical milestone in their education when they should stop learning to read and start reading to learn. ONE’s Lost Potential Tracker shows that, since 2015, over 411 million children have missed this milestone globally, with dramatic knock-on effects for their future ability to earn, innovate, improve their own opportunities, and contribute to their societies.

School’s out: COVID-19 has, unsurprisingly, exacerbated this crisis. Since the beginning of the pandemic, two-thirds of low- and lower-middle-income countries have cut their education budgets. School closures could affect this generation forever, with researchers seeing lower test scores, a loss of key skills, and a higher risk of children dropping out. At the peak of the pandemic, 1.6 billion enrolled children were pushed out of school globally, including 250 million in sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, UNESCO estimates that 100 million additional children will fall below the minimum proficiency level in reading. Missing school not only leads to learning loss, but mental distress, missed school-based meals and reduced development of social skills.

Disconnected: The impact of school closures is particularly severe in developing countries, where most children don’t have recourse to remote learning. While most countries took measures to provide online learning, over one-third of low-income countries reported that less than half of primary school students were reached. In Senegal, students received little or no support to continue their education during the pandemic, with only 4.5% reporting any contact with their teachers during the closures. As a result, the number of children repeating a year of school in Senegal almost doubled in the academic year 2020-2021. In South Africa, many children are a full school year behind in their learning.

A gendered problem: Girls’ education has been impacted even more than boys’, with data suggesting that 11 million additional girls may never return to the classroom. Girls’ schooling is likely to be disrupted as they are forced to take on additional caregiving responsibilities, domestic labour, or other work. The pandemic could roll back decades of progress in girls’ education, UNESCO warned, with girls at an increased risk of experiencing violence, adolescent pregnancy, and child marriage.

Violent losses: An estimated $11 trillion is being lost globally in future earnings because of violence in schools. A World Bank study released last week found that violence, ranging from bullying and fights to gang violence, is extremely widespread in schools around the world, estimating that up to one-third of students are bullied by their peers or affected by physical violence.

The numbers

  • 946.1: The average number of daily confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in Africa in the week to 26 July, the highest since the pandemic began.
  • 4.7: The number of vaccine doses administered in Africa per 100 people, compared to 82.3 in North America and 84.3 in Europe.
  • 3.5 years: The drop in total life expectancy in South Africa due to the pandemic. Life expectancy in the country declined from 65.5 to 62 years.

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