Although Covid-19 deaths have increased in Africa since mid-July, it is still the case that the pandemic appears not to have impacted the region to the extent it has in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
Is Africa, are Africans, more Covid resistant than people in other parts of the world?
World Economic Forum Study
The truth is that no one seems to know but there are several theories, some recently published by researchers from the World Economic Forum.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s Young Population
One factor could be the relatively young age of Africa’s population as older people are more at risk of severe illness or death from Covid infection compared to younger age groups.
The average age in North and South America, Europe and Asia is from 32 to 42.5 years of age. In sub-Sarharan Africa that figure is below 18 yeras of age.
The study compare the populations of Canada and Uganda, countries with a similarly sized population. In Canada the median age is 41.1, in Uganda it’s 16.7. Canada has recorded nearly 1.5 million Covid-19 cases and 27,000 deaths. In Uganda the figures are 100,000 cases and 3,000 deaths.
Long-Term Health Facilities
A second factor in perhaps explaining why sub-Africa weathered the pandemic better than much of the rest of the world is that most elderly people are cared for in the home or the community. In wealthier regions elderly people are far more likely to be cared for in long-term care facilities which have proven to pose a much greater threat of spreading the infection. In the first wave of the pandemic over 80 percent of deaths in these Canada, for example, occurred in such facilities.
Africans Just Hardier?
Or are Africans just hardier than other populations due to exposure to previous waves of various coronaviruses and thus have built up antibodies which reduce the severity of Covid-19? That in effect is one theory under consideration.
Of course, it could be in part that sub-Saharan governments and medical services may have just under-counted Covid-19 related deaths. With insufficient data collection and low testing levels, the truth is we just don’t know for sure.
But it may not be inefficiency on the part of sub-Saharan countries but rather efficiency that may account in the apparent lower levels of infection.
When the pandemic began some actions were taken almost immediately to tackle the outbreak. Screening got under way; the Africa Task Force for Novel Coronaviruses was established;flights from China were suspended; and the borders of African nations were closed.
As wealthier nations had concentrated on non-communicable diseases, whereas sub-Saharan Africa health organisations focused on infectious diseases. The study states, ‘The formation of national public health institutions has been a key in curbing infectious disease in Africa through disease surveillance, diagnostics and rapid response to outbreaks.’
The study highlighted however that South Africa stood out in the continent as having experienced higher levels of Covid hospitalisations and deaths. But again, South Africa’s population has a higher median age than the rest of sub-Saharan Africa and a longer-term care sector.
The study concluded: ‘We believe that the lower median age and a smaller percentage of vulnerable elderly contribute significantly to sub-Saharan Africa’s lower Covid-19 death rates’. TAGS