The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on the emotional wellbeing and financial stability of many people across Africa. This signals the need for policymakers to boost the employment of people working in the informal sector, a report says.

According to the report resulting from a survey in six African countries — Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, and South Africa — COVID-19 has led to reduced incomes of over three-quarters of the population, with Kenyans hit particularly hard from continued lockdown.

The survey, conducted in November 2020, is one of a series conducted by GeoPoll on the impact of COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“In this current study, 79 per cent reported that their income continues to decrease even since June 2020.” - Roxana Elliott, GeoPoll

“Our study over the summer found that 76% had reported a decrease in income and this current study, 79% reported that their income continues to decrease even since June 2020,” says Roxana Elliott, vice-president of marketing for GeoPoll.

“We also find that those whose lives have been affected the most by COVID-19 report more mental health struggles – in Kenya and South Africa, which have both been at times under widespread restrictions. About a quarter of respondents say they feel much worse emotionally than before COVID-19,” added Elliott.

According to the report released last month, researchers sampled 3,000 people of ages ranging from 15-35 years old in six African countries, with each country having 500 respondents. Elliott adds that the study focused on those six African countries because they represent major population areas and are economic centers in East, Central, Southern, and West Africa.

Elliott told SciDev.Net that despite a decline in COVID-19 cases in some African countries, many households are still suffering financially, emotionally, and mentally – with income decreases being high in Kenya and Mozambique. However, the study suggests there is optimism that lives may return to normal and economic situations will improve in 2021, with 65% of respondents hoping that their finances will pick up.

“This hopefulness is spurred by the [possible] arrival of a vaccine. In the countries that have felt the largest impacts from COVID-19, close to 70% of respondents are likely to take a vaccine as soon as possible,” said Elliott.

Martin Owino Omedo, regional monitoring, evaluation, and learning manager for Africa at Abt Associates, an organization that uses data to improve the quality of people’s lives worldwide, told SciDev.Net that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses in economic, health, and governance systems in Sub-Saharan Africa countries and the rest of the world.

He says it is a wake-up call for policymakers to improve employment in the informal sector, which contributes to 80% of employment in the region. The informal sector is made up of people who are self-employed and are not usually on payrolls such as retail traders and smallholder farmers.

“It [the report] provides a great policy narrative around making robust our informal employment structures and building social safety nets in case of such a circumstance occurring again, and the opportunity to look into the integration of the mental health system into the broader health system,” said Omedo.

“Vaccination is the only scientific and ethical way we can achieve herd immunity or bring the cases to acceptable background level or to shut down the circulation of the virus altogether,” added Omedo.

Mojisola Oluwasanu, a lecturer at the Department of Health Promotion and Education, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, says that even though the method the researchers used in obtaining information is valid, it may not be a complete reflection as it may not reach the low literate population, often more vulnerable to COVID-19 impacts.

“Essentially this report is a call to governments to develop interventions for life post-COVID,” she adds. “Of importance is the theme of trust in information and vaccine acceptance, which is the next major agenda in the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria and other African countries.”

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This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

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