Whose crisis?: The global COVID-19 crisis from the perspective of communities in Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: College of Social Sciences


The COVID-19 pandemic may prove to be the most documented global pandemic in history. However, the voices of this pandemic are dominated by those generated in the North by an overwhelming minority of wealthy and powerful authors, reflecting on a crisis that, while impacting the whole world, is experienced in vastly different ways. Coupled with this, the responses in governance and frontline action have been led by the North. This project addresses this imbalance of representation and positions our Southern partners centrally as agents of change within the volatile environment of the COVID-19 crisis.

Quickly referred to as the "rich man's disease" in resource poor contexts of Africa; the adoption of Northern responses to COVID-19 in terms of restricted mobilities and trade, the closure of schools, and an emphasis on testing and treating COVID-19 is putting additional and critical pressure on already overburdened social, economic and health systems. This project addresses the intersection and connection of these two realities: representation and response. The "Whose Crisis?" project will create a platform (the SFA COVID-19 Global Voices Hub) and a pathway for understanding and exchange for societal, health, economic, government and public stakeholders, to inform responsive action.

Our research asks: (1) What are the lived experiences of, perspectives on, and responses to, COVID-19 in vulnerable communities in sub-Saharan Africa?; (2) How can perspectives be shared in participatory and collaborative ways to mobilise Northern and Southern expertise, resources, and engagement?; and (3) What can be achieved when the voices of under-represented and under-served communities in Africa are amplified, in terms of Global Health in a pandemic context?

COVID-19 may not present the same risk to life in Africa as many other health risks faced there every year, but it is one that has opened a new shaft of light and level of attention onto what is understood as 'global health'. COVID-19 is highlighting existing inequalities and making very clear the bio-social nature of disease (Gibbon et al 2020) wherein biological vulnerabilities are created through socio-economic inequalities. There is an urgent need to bridge this complexity and reflect the global diversity of human experience and more a balanced understanding of this pandemic.

Although frontline health care is a priority, attempts to meet the health challenges of pandemics exist within a fragile ecosystem, particularly in the Global South. A lack of contextual, faith, traditional, and cultural understanding, involvement of local communities or recognition of national priorities can negatively affect health interventions and outcomes that will arise from COVID-19, and thus distort health policy, governance and research in related fields (e.g. the current widespread imposition of "lockdown" policies).

The research design consists of a preparation phase (1) to adequately support this research in a time of especially fragile infrastructures and community wellbeing. This is followed by phases of community based and participatory fieldwork (2) and co-curation and dissemination (3) of voices, stories, and lived experiences. Genuine engagement, innovative methods, and sophisticated communications will combine to ethically attend to the current situation as well as prepare for what's next. Thus, this project is built on long standing partnerships, agility, and rapid knowledge transfer afforded by the existing Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) network.

This research needs to happen now, as decisions, perspectives, and opportunities are being made and missed every week as the global condition shifts. The implications of ignoring cultural perspectives and missing the opportunities to learn from all, will lead to further inequity, misdirected policies, misallocated resources, increased dominance of certain viewpoints and increased ignorance of the plurality of our experiences.


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