5 reasons why COVID-19 has been less deadly in Africa

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

People around the world held their breaths when COVID-19 started permeating around the globe not for them but for Africa.

From the current sorry state of many African countries they show around the world, like Uganda, it was easy to jump to conclusions that COVID-19 would wipe out the continent.

However it did not, we were are the least affected inhabited continent on earth. Why is that so?

5. High public support

In August a Partnership for Evidence-Based Response (PERC) survey in 18 countries found that 85% of respondents wore masks in the previous week. (See below)

As we can see above people mostly completely adhered to calls to wash hangs, avoid handshakes even avoiding places of worship and public gatherings, staying at home and reducing shopping trips also scored high.

Compared to countries abroad we started following the rules much earlier on in the pandemic.

4. Quick action from governments

Many African countries were fast to implemented measures suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO). Although they would have most certainly brought great loss of livelihoods to millions of people.

The first case in Africa was reported in Egypt on 14 February. The WHO were already imploring countries to take action. Africa listened and many leaders took drastic action.

In Uganda, our president even took to social media to encourage people to exercise while on lockdown. Amusing as he goes on about it but it clearly shows he has lost touch with his own people as most Ugandans would not have the luxury of having such space in their homes.

3. Young population – a few care homes

Africa is the youngest continent on earth with a median age of 19 that may have played a huge part in this pandemic. As we now understand, older people especially those over 80 years old are most likely to succumb to this disease.

“The pandemic has largely been in younger age groups… about 91% of COVID-19 infection in sub-Saharan Africa are among people below 60 years and over 80% are asymptomatic,” said the WHO.

“We have [in Africa] about 3% of the population aged over 65 years,” sad Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Africa head.

In comparison, Europe, North America and wealthier Asian countries have the oldest inhabitants who mostly live in care homes which became a death trap as transmission were very high in these places.

Care homes for the elderly is not a common thing in Africa, most older people tend to live in rural areas, which also tend to be very sparse.

2. Hot Climate

Countries close to the sun, equator, have been lucky. Those away, like South Africa, have not been that lucky. South Africa has been the most affected to date.

A study conducted by researchers in the University of Maryland in the US found a correlation between temperature, humidity and latitude, and the spread of COVID-19.

“We looked at the early spread [of the virus] in 50 cities around the world. The virus had an easier time spreading in lower temperatures and humidity,” said Mohammad Sajadi, the lead researcher.

“Not that it doesn’t spread in other conditions – it just spreads better when temperature and humidity drop.”

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

We also know Vitamin D which comes naturally from the sun helps a great deal in our immune systems especially in the fight against viruses like COVID-19. We Africans in Africa have plenty of this.

1. Good community health systems

Many countries in Africa are used to epidemics. When COVID-19 hit, Democratic Republic of Congo was dealing with its biggest outbreak of Ebola yet. Neighbouring countries were on high alert, and the health screening of travellers for Ebola was extended to include Covid-19.

In West Africa fresh from battling the world’s worst Ebola outbreak in 2013-16 they had mastered the public health measures that have been used to prevent COVID-19, including isolating the infected, tracing their contacts and then getting them quarantined while they get tested.

Moreover, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, they quickly re-purposed teams that had been going round immunising kids agains polio to educate communities about the new pandemic.

“Once I heard the news, I instantly thought: duty is calling. My expertise is needed to serve my community.

“We immediately mobilized the existing polio personnel, tracking contacts and conducting follow-up visits.”

Said Dr Rosemary Onyibe, who had been working on the polio eradication programme in April:

So, while hospital infrastructure in much of Africa is less developed than in other parts of the world, the continent’s strength lay in its tried and tested community health systems, the sun and its young population.

All this said however doesn’t mean Africa has come off lightly grazed. We should not relax yet.

“The slower spread of infection in the region means we expect the pandemic to continue to smoulder for some time, with occasional flare-ups,” Dr Moeti said.