Laganeh Fadé: Crowds, Population Size, and the Rise of COVID-19 Cases in Dakar

It’s been almost a month since I’ve first arrived in Dakar for the summer. With plans to originally research risk-informed development strategies, I have taken on a new approach to this summer’s research project and will be focusing on how Dakar’s population size is an important factor to consider in evaluating the government’s effectiveness in handling the pandemic. Read more about this shift in my research below.

Anyone in Dakar will tell you that “Dakar il y a trop de monde…trop.

From the heavy traffic to super crowded markets, Dakar is easily a well populated city. Currently, the population estimates around 1.056 million people, while the entire country’s population is over 17,000 people. Dakar itself is extremely concentrated, and this specifically is in relation to land availability and population size. While Senegal’s total land mass is about 196,722 km², the city of Dakar with a land mass of only 83 km², has accumulated a population too large for its land space due to job availability, higher prevalance of schools and hospitals, and overall furhter development than its rural and suburban zones.

Why does population size matter in the context of a pandemic?

Well, the more people and the less available space, equals more physical congestion in terms of proximity to other people. If there’s anything we’ve learned from this pandemic, social distancing is important and quarantine space is essential.

Here are some images of crowdedness in Senegal.

DAKAR, SENEGAL – JULY 05: People gather during the last day of Ramadan ahead of Eid day at HLM Market on July 05, 2016 in Dakar, Senegal. (Photo by Xaume Olleros/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Followers of the Senegalese Mourides brotherhood attend the Friday prayer at the Grand Mosque Massalikoul Djinane in Dakar, Senegal March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Sylvain Cherkaoui 

Population Size and Crowdedness are important factors to consider when delving into how issues like pandemics are effectively or ineffectively handled by government and public sectors. Part of the reason my research had also shifted to focus on population size, is because Senegal specifically, like many culturally and religiously rich African nations, hold family and community dear to their core values. Families are often extremely large making quarantining at home a difficult scenario. In terms of religion, Senegal is a majority muslim nation with large sects of Mourides and Sufi Muslims who communally worship whether at Friday prayers or other worship sessions throughout the week.

It is definitely important to consider these factors in COVID-19 Response research. I am looking forward to exploring how a people’s core values conflict or largely impact their response to global disasters. For example, if someone is extremely religious, are they going to stop worshipping as normal becuase of the Virus or will their trust in their belief be enough for them.

Cultural and Religious sensitivity is extrmely important in all forms of research, thus I am looking forward to delviing into these social aspects more as I accumulate more findings on Senegal’s experience duringthe pandemic.

Delta Variant

Dakar has also scarily been accumulating COVID cases, particularly of the new Delta variant. Currently 6 of every 10 COVID cases are of the Delta variant, which is currently overwhelming hospital staff as well as laboratories across Senegal. Now, in addition to worrying about the number of cases to control, doctors and researchers are equally concerned about the number of serious cases which have unfortunately also been accumulating rather quickly. I hope to incorporate the Delta variant into part of my research as it reflects the government and public sector’s ability to act quickly when a growing amount of the population is at risk.

Is Senegal ready for another shutdown? What is the overall consensus on the vaccine especially now that a new variant is in place and the older variant, Alpha, which was most concurrent with the vaccine is nearly disappearing in the country?