Opinion

COVID-19: Africa the impossible forecast

Coronavirus in Africa

But what is happening in Africa in these times of COVID-19? The hecatomb announced by the WHO has not taken place and the continent seems to be better off than Europe and America. Limited or even disastrous medical infrastructures, a fragile and almost non-existent health system... It seems that Africa had no assets and no chance of getting out of this pandemic era.  

But once again, it was shocked and denied the predictions and all the disaster scenarios that the Cassandras of the world were predicting. This situation challenged scientists, doctors, laboratories and sociologists. Today, we realize that the continent remains unknown and does not obey the assessment criteria used to calibrate it. Africa remains this unknown land for the world and the experts who predicted its certain death have not yet understood how it works. But what is really going on, and why do Africans today talk about the "white" disease?

The WHO's prognosis was bleak. Last May the World Health Organization predicted 190,000 deaths. However, the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Africa, count 252,544 infections and 67,779 deaths compared to 150,000 deaths in Europe. These figures can, of course, be disputed. They are only the tip of the iceberg. Authoritarian African regimes that are not transparent and the lack of means to test and examine patients can significantly distort these statistics. But what is certain is that we are a long way from the mass graves that were used as burial sites in Brazil and the United States. The continent is not experiencing the promised tragedy.  

Africa has 54 countries and 1.2 billion people, and the strategies that have been put in place to deal with the health crisis are as varied as the number of countries. African countries have been affected differently by the coronavirus, and while a large proportion have been spared the virus so far, not all have. The epidemic continues to advance in Egypt, Algeria, South Africa and Madagascar.

"Before we have access to an effective vaccine, I am afraid we will have to live with a steady increase in the region, with outbreaks to be managed in many countries, such as Algeria, Cameroon and South Africa, which require very strong public health measures," warns Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's regional director for Africa.  

Africa accounts for three percent of the world's total number of COVID-19 cases, according to the World Health Organization. This low rate is partly explained by the youth of its populations, 60% of which are under 25 years old. In addition, its ageing population is very low. The continent has 5% of people over 65. Italy, which paid a high price during the pandemic, has the oldest demographics in Europe in comparison. According to the WHO, "ten of 54 African countries account for 80% of cases, and South Africa alone accounts for 25%. More than 70% of deaths occur in just five countries: Algeria, Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa and Sudan".

If North Africa is not so well off, it is because of its proximity and links to Europe, but it is also distinguished by the nature of its populations. For example, Algeria is one of the countries with the highest life expectancy in Africa.  

Another factor that also weighs on this crisis is cross immunity. Populations that are in contact with different pathogenic microbes and have been confronted with viruses such as Ebola have strengthened their immunity and their bodies respond better to the attack of the new virus.  

Heat is also a factor of interest to scientists and much knowledge is being developed to study the temperature-dependent behaviour of the virus. Some believe that its impact has played an important role in slowing the spread of the virus in Africa. The combination of heat and the African way of life, which advocates for the outside, has resulted in the protection of people.

Malaria is also believed to have had an impact, according to some research. Patients treated with hydroxychloroquine (a treatment given against malaria), would be less sensitive to COVID-19 and would be better protected against its effects.  

While the epidemic curve is taking off in Madagascar, which has so far been spared, vigilance is still required on the continent and some scientists warn that the pandemic may be slower in Africa, but what is certain is that it is still advancing.  

Hunger and unemployment seem to follow this exponential increase. In Algeria, a man set himself on fire last week because he could no longer feed his family, and the unrest in Kenya is still fresh in the minds of many. Police violence, meanwhile, has continued to rise in most of these countries and is much harder to reverse than COVID-19.