Africa seems to be withstanding the coronavirus pandemic despite earlier predictions that its population would be wiped out into desolation. Unlike in the European world where most cases are locally transmitted, most cases in Africa have been imported.
Which African Countries Have Been Hit Hardest By Coronavirus?
The most affected countries are Egypt which is located on the top of the continent and South Africa which is found on the southernmost part of the continent.
In Egypt the total number of infection as of March 19 was 256 with around 60% being foreigners, while the number of deaths was 7. In South Africa confirmed cases on the same date stood at 150 with 0 deaths being reported . Statistically that means 3 deaths in every 100 infected people in Egypt.
Comparing this with data from other continents, the UK which is less affected compared to other European countries has 3,944 confirmed cases and 144 deaths, translating to 4 deaths in every 100 people. In Spain out of 17,395 infected people, 800 have died, meaning 5 deaths in every 100 cases. In Asia, Iran has reported 18,407 cases and 1,284 deaths, translating to 7 deaths in every 100 cases.
Are African Cases Being Under Reported?
Of course it is possible that cases in Africa are being under reported because of lack of resources or healthcare systems that can enable tests to be carried on the scale of developed countries. But still, looking at the recovery rate in African cases in comparison to those of countries outside the continent, Africa’s rate is remarkable.
For instance in Egypt out of the 256 confirmed cases, 28 people have fully recovered. While in the UK out of 3,269 confirmed cases, only 65 have recovered fully. That’s a recovery rate of 11% and 2% respectively. Britain being a developed country one would have expected the recovery rate to be high.
Nevertheless it is worth noting that the situation is being dictated by a number of factors which greatly favor Africa despite its weak infrastructures.
One such factor is the weather. According to Professor John Nicholls of the University of Hong Kong in an interview with AccuWeather “Three things the virus does not like: 1. Sunlight, 2. Temperature, and 3. Humidity.”
“Sunlight will cut the virus’ ability to grow in half, so the half-life will be 2.5 minutes and in the dark it’s about 13 to 20 minutes,” he explained . He also pointed out that the higher the temperature the better for stopping the spread of the virus.
“The virus can remain intact at 4 degrees or 10 degrees for a longer period,” Nicholls argued in reference to Celsius temperature measurements. “But at 30 degrees then you get activation. And high humidity, the virus doesn’t like it either.”
‘High Temperature and High Humidity Significantly Reduce the Transmission of Influenza’
This line of argument is supported by findings of a research recently commissioned by the National Key R & D Program of China and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.”high temperature and high humidity significantly reduce the transmission of Influenza,” wrote Jianguyan Wang of Beihang University , Ke Tang of Tsinghua University and Kai Feng and Weifeng Lv both of Beihang University.
“In the early dates of outbreaks, countries with relatively lower air temperature and lower humidity(e.g Korea, Japan and Iran) saw severe outbreaks than warmer and more humid countries (e.g Singapore , Malaysia and Thailand) do,” the four experts said.
Putting this in the context of African climatic conditions, South Africa which is one of the most hit countries is more vulnerable because of its varied climatic conditions than most other countries in Sub Saharan Africa. It also has lower average temperatures than other countries within the range of its latitude.
Winter temperatures may reach the freezing point in high altitude places such as Gauteng which is the epicenter of the current outbreak. In summary the country’s summer starts from November to March , Autumn from April to May and winter from June to August. Meaning it could see a spike in cases of infections in the coming months as cold weather moves in.
Africa Has the Youngest Overall Population in the World
According to UNDP’s “Africa’s defining challenge” report of 2017, Africa has the youngest population in the world. This makes age another factor favoring Africans in this crisis.Young healthy people have a lower risk of contracting the virus and, even if they do, their symptoms are usually milder.
A report by the US Centers for Disease Control published this month shows that the rate of hospitalization of people with coronavirus increases with age. Those of the age group (0-19) were hospitalized at the rate of 1.64%, (20-44) at the rate of 17.5%, (45-54) at the rate of 24%, (55-64) at the rate of 25.3%,(65-74) at the rate of 36.5%, (75-84) at the rate of 44.6%, and those above 84 at the rate of 50.8%.
The low rate of hospitalization in certain categories is because young healthier people tend to display milder symptoms than older people . For instance in Egypt a study conducted by the University of Toronto revealed that the number of coronavirus cases could even be higher than the official figures being released by the government.
The explanation for this is that Egypt has a young population, which the lead researcher said “could result in a lot of mild infections that might not be detected even with widespread transmission , particularly if there isn’t active testing and case finding happening in the country.”
Youth Complacency About Coronavirus Can Be Fatal
However, Prof Patrick Vallance Chief Scientific Advisor to the British Government although agreeing with this hypotheses has warned young people not to be complacent for many of them are ending up in the ICU with Covid-19.
“I think the data on that is pretty strong now, and it certainly is the case that the majority of those that end up dying sadly are people who tend to be either in the later part of their lives, usually quite elderly,” he said. “But there are also some young people who have ended up in intensive care or who have ended up with severe cases of the disease around the world.”
Perhaps HIV presents the biggest problem to Africa in the fight against coronavirus. This is because the virus damages body cells in the immune system and weakens the ability of the body to fight everyday infections and diseases.
The immune system is the body’s defense system. When a harmful invader like a cold or flu virus, or the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 gets into the body, the immune system mounts an attack, known as an immune response. This attack is a sequence of events that involves various cells and unfolds over time, said a team of experts from Harvard Medical School.
Africa’s Added Challenge: High HIV Rates
Almost 70% of 34 million people living with HIV viruses around the world are located in Africa. Furthermore, around 90% of HIV positive children in the world live in Africa.
While The CDC notes that the risk from immune suppression is not known, the history of other viral respiratory infections shows that “the risk for people with HIV getting very sick is greatest in people with a low CD4 cell count and people not on HIV treatment.” In relation to this, the Academy of South Africa recently revealed that HIV positive people are eight times more likely to be hospitalized with pneumonia caused by Influenza.
Without proper healthcare these vulnerable people are at a very high risk of serious complications from the coronavirus. South Africa with its high HIV positive population is highly susceptible to the pandemic. 20% of people living with HIV are in the country. In places like KwaZulu-Natal Province almost 60% of women living ni poverty are HIV positive. And according to Center for Strategic and International Studies 4,500 new cases are reported every week. The best course of action would be to make ARV drugs easily available and to provide them with adequate health care.