WHO says 80% of Africans with Coronavirus Infection Don’t Fall Sick
“There are over 30 flights daily between just London and New York and thousands of daily flights between hundreds of European, American and Asian destinations, ferrying not only business travelers to cities but also tourists to small towns and villages. Africa not only lack these dense connections to the world, travel within African countries for business or tourism is severely hampered by low income economies and poor road networks”.
The world had good reasons to imagine horrific scenarios when the new coronavirus pandemic hit Africa- fragile health systems overwhelmed, dead bodies on the street, bush isolation centres etc. Lockdowns and social distancing were not viable methods for curtailing the spread of the virus in the world’s poorest region were millions live in cramped accommodations and depend on daily wages to feed their families, so have to go out and work. But it gradually emerged that African countries are suffering much less from the novel coronavirus than richer regions of the world. The rates of infection are lower and Africans seem twice as likely to get infected with the virus without suffering any illness according to preliminary results of ongoing studies by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Relying on analysis of blood samples conducted in many Africa countries, WHO found that more than 80 per cent of Africans who got infected with the new coronavirus did not develop any symptoms, in contrast to around 40-50 % of asymptomatic cases in the rest of the world. Africa has thus had a far lower death rate compared to the rest of the world. With a population of 1.2 billion, Africa has had 1.4 million new coronavirus infections and less than 350,000 deaths. The United States of America has suffered over 200,000 deaths with over 7 million infections. Africa’s “good luck” was first met with skepticism even within the continent, put down to the very low testing, still at about 1% of the population. Nigeria has tested 0.02 people for every 1,000 Nigerians while France has tested 2.33 people for every 1,000 inhabitants.
But it has become clear that Africa’s low infection and death rates largely are really what they are. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, said in a media briefing on Thursday 24, September that the consensus on Africa’s low infection rate “is reinforced by the fact that we have not seen health systems overwhelmed by very large numbers of cases, and we’re also not seeing evidence of excess mortality due to COVID-19,”. Africa’s new coronavirus infection is low and only 2.4 % of reported cases result in death, a rate lower than in most far wealthier countries in the West. While more Africans have been infected than official figures suggest, over 80% of Africans who have been infected are asymptomatic according to WHO’s analysis.
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Deaths from untested and unreported cases of new coronavirus infections are occurring in Africa but they are too insignificant (in number) to alter the conclusion that the impact of the virus has been less severe in Africa. Though the explanations for this “African exception” are still being studied, scientists have advanced the following as possible factors:
– Africa is a relatively “young” continent; only 3% are above the age of 65. Infections in young people tend to be both asymptomatic and far less likely to result in death when infected people develop Covid-19-related illnesses.
-Early lockdowns. Most of Africa had “advanced warning”-African countries could see how China curtailed the spread of the new coronavirus by locking down and how it spread in places like the USA due to the reluctance to lockdown.
– Africa’s weak links to the rest of the world; though everyone is ultimately vulnerable regardless of socioeconomic background, the spread of the new coronavirus disease is enabled greatly by air travel between and within countries. There are over 30 flights daily between just London and New York and thousands of daily flights between hundreds of European, American and Asian destinations, ferrying not only business travelers to cities but also tourists to small towns and villages. Africa not only lack these dense connections to the world, travel within African countries for business or tourism is severely hampered by low income economies and poor road networks.
– Africa’s low population density. Much of Africa is still rural. Not only are rural areas poorly connected to urban centres, they also have fewer people who spend more time outdoors. Since the coronavirus doesn’t easily spread where there is good ventilation, chances of it spreading outdoors are greatly reduced.
While it is certain that something is preventing the spread and fatality of the new coronavirus in Africa, whatever the responsible combination of factors are, they require further study. The virus isn’t spreading even in Africa’s high-density slums. It cannot be because they have poor links with the areas where the elites live; low-income earners largely have resumed travelling to the posh areas where they work as cooks, drivers, gardeners etc. Yet a word of caution- nothing in WHO’s findings suggests Africans aged 40 years and above who have underlying conditions are less likely to catch or die from the novel coronavirus infection than people with similar demographic or health profiles elsewhere.