Compared to other continents and countries, there have been fewer reported cases of the COVID-19 infection in Africa. According to a tweet by Africa Center for Disease Control (Africa CDC), on 31st March 2020, “#COVID19-SURVEILLANCE UPDATE: 31 MARCH 2020- 5:00 pm EAT. African Union Member States (48) reporting COVID-19 cases (5,413), deaths (172), and recoveries (387) by region”
On 11th March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Africa was initially spared of the virus, however this is changing quickly. In the last two weeks, the number of affected African countries increased from 9 to 48. The big question is why are there a few cases in Africa?
As we all know, quite a number of African countries have crippled health systems, Africans value social gatherings-an avenue for the spread of the virus- and finally Africa has a very high prevalence of malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, Anemia, and malaria. All these factors put together are enough to spur the spread of the virus and result in increased death rates. However, let’s take a look at factors that might have possibly brought about a reduced number of deaths.
Firstly, Africa’s demographic structure is different from other parts of the world. The median age of the population in Africa is 19.7 years. In comparison, the median age in China is 38.4 years, and in Europe, it is: 43.1 years.
Cases in Asia and Europe showed that people over 60 years and those with underlying health problems are most vulnerable to severe cases of COVID-19. Although, there have been reports of the deaths of young people as COVID-19 is a virus that affects all age groups.
COVID-19 and The Environment
Secondly, there have been speculations around the environment and the virus spread. Among the several factors that play huge roles in a virus spread, air temperature is an important factor. Studies in time past show that cold, dry temperatures encourage the transmission of influenza and respiratory viruses.
Despite the uncertainties surrounding the environment that encourages the spread of COVID-19, it seems to have followed the pattern of respiratory viruses.
Scientists from Sun Yat-sen University in China concluded that “In cold environments, there is longer virus survival than warm ones”
The mean monthly temperature of most affected countries in the world-China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain- shows that they have a temperature range ( from January to March) between 6 and 12 degrees Celsius. While affected African countries such as Nigeria, South Africa, Benin, Togo, Cameroon had average monthly temperatures between 20 to 32 degrees Celsius.
Although, this pattern has not been fully proven and cannot thoroughly explain the few numbers of cases.
Finally, since the onset of the outbreak in China, African countries were given ample time to prepare and have been taking measures to prevent the import of the virus from other countries.
The greater percentage of young people in Africa, when compared to Europe and China might be an indication of the lower death rates in the continent. However, Immunocompromised people are at greater risks and might have serious complications such as people with HIV/AIDS, Anemia, etc
Although the virus has been slow to reach Africa, there are several reasons to suspect that its imminent progression will be similar to China and the rest of the world if the necessary measures such as- protecting vulnerable groups, insisting on social distancing and improving on the health care systems- are not taken.