By Tobias Lengnan Dapam

Women account for a slightly smaller proportion of COVID-19 infections and deaths compared with men, a preliminary analysis by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 28 African countries revealed.

The analysis based on COVID-19 gender specific epidemiological data provided by countries found that although women account for around 41% of COVID-19 cases, this ranges from 31% in Niger to over 57% in South Africa.

In most countries, women are less likely to die from COVID-19 than men. “For instance, in Cote d’Ivoire the case fatality ratio stands at 0.4% for women compared with 0.5% in men, while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo it is 2.2% versus 2.7% and 0.1% versus 0.5% in Seychelles.”

This statistics comes despite women accounting for a large part of the health workforce which puts them at higher risk of infection.

“In Africa, more than 95 000 health workers have been infected with COVID-19. In Seychelles, women account for 71% of health worker infections, 64% in Eswatini, 55% in Côte d’Ivoire and 54% in Senegal.
“Further analyses are required to determine the factors behind the disparity in infections between men and women. However, some studies have suggested that biological, behavioural or social factors could be responsible. Other studies report that men are significantly more likely to suffer severe effects of COVID-19 and more likely to have pre-existing conditions, explaining the slightly lower fatality rate seen in women.”

However, the pandemic and the initial strict containment measures such as lockdowns, movement restriction and school closures accentuated existing vulnerabilities faced by women and girls.

“The aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls have been profound, leaving many grappling with heightened risks to their health and safety,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa. “Our response must go beyond the clinical aspects of the pandemic and address the hidden crises that risk causing long-term effects to lives and livelihoods.”

With the pandemic accentuating challenges to accessing essential health services, a WHO preliminary analysis in 22 countries found 10 reported a rise in maternal deaths, with the highest increases reported in Comoros, Mali, Senegal and South Africa between February and July 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.

Nine of the 22 countries reported a decline in births in health facilities and an increase in complications due to abortions.

The analysis said studies have also found that violence against women, and particularly domestic violence, increased in several countries as security, health, and financial worries created tensions and strains which were worsened by the confined living conditions of lockdown.

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