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Low number of the coronavirus cases in Africa baffles scientists

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By BERNADINE MUTANU

Like most African countries, Kenya has recorded few coronavirus deaths and infections.

With 71 fatalities and slightly more than 2,000 cases, Kenya may be lucky even as the pandemic ravages Europe, the United States, South America and other parts of the world.

Except for North Africa, where 1,900 deaths have been reported, the other regions – East, West, Central and Southern Africa – had registered 2,394 combined by yesterday.

Africa has about 152,500 Covid-19 cases, with 4,344 deaths and 64,047 recoveries.

Compared with other parts of the world and initial disease models, Africa is doing well in terms of the number of infections and deaths.

And now, researchers say Africa is a unique case.

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A youthful population and warmer weather are reducing the transmission of the deadly virus, according to a study published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

The research by a team of Kenyan scientists says a combination of the two factors “is likely to contribute even more to the low transmission and reduced disease severity in Africa”.

The researchers reviewed recent studies conducted elsewhere and analysed and compared disease patterns and trends in Italy, the United States, Nigeria and Kenya.

“The contrasting trends of the pandemic in countries presented and the studies cited make the combined effects of warmer weather and youthful population a compelling explanation of the low Covid-19 transmission and severity in Africa,” the report says.

The study adds that the premise that Africans are not getting the coronavirus or dying from it because of pre-existing immunity from exposure to cross-reacting coronaviruses “is intriguing but requires further studies”.

The researchers argue that due to the high transmissibility of Covid-19 in vulnerable populations, the few cases introduced in Africa could have triggered a full-blown local epidemic.

But the rate of transmission is still low in Africa, months after the first cases were reported.

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African countries’ mitigation measures seem less stringent compared with Europe and the US.

Social distancing is almost non-existent in Africa while lockdowns were not practicable “because of poverty and reliance on the informal economy”.

It means that while measures taken by governments to control the spread of the virus may have worked, they may not have been effective in controlling a spiral infection.

The continent is poor and it was expected that increased Covid-19 infections would overwhelm its health systems.

A team of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine did a mathematical modelling in April, which projected that Africa would have 450,000 coronavirus cases by the second week of May.

The researchers projected that every country in East Africa would have at least 10,000 cases by May 10.

At the beginning of May, WHO predicted that 183,000 to 190,000 people could die of Covid-19 and 29 million to 44 million could get infected in the first year of the pandemic “if containment measures fail”.

The lower transmission rate of Covid-19 in Africa, says the UN agency, suggests “a more prolonged outbreak over a few years”.

But it appears Africa is resilient, and many countries are considering reopening their economies.

A recent study showed that Africans are four times less likely to die from Covid-19 compared with Europeans and North Americans.

They are two times less likely to die from the disease compared with Asians and South Americans.

The researchers, however, said if the WHO prediction comes to pass, where Africa could still record increased cases and deaths in the coming months as demonstrated in Brazil, the progression may dispel the hypotheses the study deemed compelling.



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