Johannesburg, South Africa – As the world comes to terms with the impact of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), research reveals that the vast majority of African youth are deeply concerned about the spread of infectious diseases and its impact on the development of the continent and its people. 

The African Youth Survey 2020, the most comprehensive study of Africa’s youth to date, found that nine out of 10 African youth express concern about the spread of infectious diseases, and ‘deaths caused by infectious diseases’ was identified as the one singular event or development that had the biggest impact on Africa over the last five years.

The research, undertaken prior to the COVID-19 outbreak in China, was commissioned and published by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, a leading African foundation encouraging active citizenship across the continent. 

When asked to select one singular event or development over the last five years which had the greatest impact on the continent, 24% (the highest number of African youth) believed it to be “deaths from infectious disease”. The second highest event or development was reported as “the rise of terrorism” (15%), followed by “the technological revolution” (12%), and “civil war” (11%). 

African youth who cite deaths from infectious disease as the most formative development of the past five years tend to be concentrated in Western and Southern Africa. The countries with highest level of concern regarding infectious disease were Congo Brazzaville (43%), Ghana (40%), Gabon (33%), Zambia (33%), and South Africa (32%), likely due to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and ongoing HIV/Aids, Malaria and TB epidemics.

The findings highlight the lasting impact that infectious diseases, like COVID-19, could have on the developmental years of young people around the world. In contrast to the rest of the world, African youth have had far greater exposure to decimating diseases like Ebola, HIV/Aids, Malaria and TB during their formative years. 

As COVID-19 has been confirmed in at least 50 of Africa’s 54 countries, health experts are cautiously optimistic that the lessons learnt from previous health emergencies will help the continent in its fight against coronavirus. 

Ivor Ichikowitz, African industrialist, philanthropist and Chairman of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation said: “We have found that despite severe challenges like infectious diseases, the youth in Africa are imbued with optimism about the future and want to shape their own destiny. They refuse to shy away from the very real challenges of Africa, open and honest about what needs to be done. 

“This rising Afro-Capability and Afro-Responsibility is in line with the swift and decisive action that many African Governments have taken to deal with COVID-19, from nationwide lock downs, travel restrictions to school closures and the banning of large gatherings. These decisive actions, which must be commended, stand in contrast to many developed nations who have failed to decisively deal with the crisis despite being at the epi-centre of the pandemic.”

The African Youth Survey (AYS) is a sweeping Pan-African study commissioned by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation and conducted by PSB, undertaken across the major urban centers of Congo-Brazzaville, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The study was designed to measure the principles and attitudes, concerns and aspirations of sub-Saharan Africa’s young people, to develop foundations for a better global understanding of an all-too-often misunderstood part of the world.

The African Youth Survey has offered profound new narratives speaking to a rising Afro-Optimism among the continent’s youth driven by a strong sense of individual responsibility, a post-colonial mindset, entrepreneurialism, and confidence in a shared African identity.

Ichikowitz added: “It is clear that, now more than ever, African youth have been poised well ahead of the curve, uniquely aware and informed regarding the threats posed by infectious diseases to socioeconomic development. Youths from Europe, the Americas, Asia, and the rest of the world will now most likely share the concerns that our Survey proves most Africans have grown up with throughout their lives.” 

Despite the spread of infectious diseases serving as a major issue in years past to African youth, reforming healthcare, improving health infrastructure and / or fighting infectious diseases were not considered among the most important reforms needed to be implemented for Africa to progress in future. 

In the interest of the African continent moving forward over the next five years, the Survey found priority was lent to reducing government corruption (26%), creating new, well-paying jobs (24%), achieving peace and stability (17%), increasing access to basic needs and services such as food and water (16%), modernizing the education system (15%), fighting terrorism (12%) and building a culture of both innovation and entrepreneurship (12%), in the eyes of African youth. “Fighting the spread of” or “stopping infectious disease” did not foster enough of a response at the time to register as a definitive priority across the dataset. However, in 2020 these perceptions may change as coronavirus cases continue to increase across the world, with severe consequences for Africa’s fragile economies. 

The Ichikowitz Family Foundation has commissioned the African Youth Survey on an annual basis, in an effort to help African governments, global lending institutions, and regional business and civil society leaders collect the critical, contemporary information required to better respond to the concerns of what is collectively the world’s fastest growing population.