PandemicsAfrica: Milder COVID-19 Pandemic than Expected Puzzles Experts
Hundreds of thousands or even millions of deaths and serious infections causing the collapse of already shaky health care systems —this is how experts imagined the effect of the coronavirus pandemic in most African countries. But, more than four months later, one can say that this horror scenario has not materialized. A lack of reliable data makes it difficult to say why, but several theories have been put forth.
Hundreds of thousands or even millions of deaths and serious infections causing the collapse of already shaky health care systems —this is how experts imagined the effect of the coronavirus pandemic in most African countries.
But, more than four months later, one can say that this horror scenario has not materialized.
While rates of infection and death on other continents have sometimes exploded in recent months, Africa has been spared a high COVID-19 mortality rate — and this despite the fact that people in cities like Dakar and Lagos live under very crowded conditions, with many suffering from poverty and a lack of basic hygienic facilities.
Scientists have been examining the possible reasons for the mild course of the pandemic on the continent.
In an analysis for the journal Science in August, one group of researchers surmised that early action by authorities may have played a role. “Measures such as travel restrictions, curfews and school closures were implemented early in Africa compared with other continents, often before an African country had detected a case,” they wrote.
The authors attributed this readiness to take early action to the experiences of many African countries with other infectious diseases such as Ebola and Lassa fever. The rapid response most likely led to a slower spread of the infection, they said.
“The Measures Are Working”
“We know that the measures are working,” says Edward Chu, emergency medicine adviser at Doctors Without Borders. “However, strict measures are difficult to maintain over a long period of time. We can therefore assume that with further relaxation, the number of infections will also increase.”
Nevertheless, according to the authors of the Science article, there must be other reasons why the worst-case scenario has not occurred, because “[m]ost people work in the informal business sector, such as in traditional markets, making strict lockdown measures impossible to implement.”
Age, for example, could be one reason. On average, the population of the African continent is 19.7 years old — only half as old as people in the US. Although the novel coronavirus also infects the young, it is mainly the elderly who come to hospitals with severe cases of the disease and die from the infection.