When Covid-19 was just starting to sweep the globe, experts predicted Africa would be devastated, with millions of lives lost. But 11 months later, the continent seems to be doing better than anticipated.
The United States with a population of about 326 million people, has so far recorded over 228,000 deaths from the coronavirus, while the entire continent of Africa has recorded just over 41,000 deaths.
Researchers have found no reason to believe that Black people have a natural immunity to the coronavirus, despite some pseudoscience that has circulated about African Americans in the US. The trend in Africa stands in stark contrast to the experiences of Black people in America, who, due to a range of other socioeconomic factors, are at a disproportionally higher risk of becoming ill from the coronavirus.
But why has Africa been so successful at controlling the coronavirus pandemic?
Experience with other epidemics
Experts say some African nations’ experience with previous viral outbreaks like Ebola means it was already prepared to deal with Covid-19.
In 2014, Nigeria led several West African states to contain the outbreak of Ebola by perfecting public health measures which include isolating the infected, tracing their contacts, and then getting them quarantined while they get tested.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland USA found a correlation between temperature, humidity and latitude, and the spread of Covid-19.
Muhammad Sajadi, the lead researcher opined that the virus had an easier time spreading in lower temperatures and humidity.
“Not that it does not spread in other conditions – it just spreads better when temperature and humidity drop,” he said.
Africa is home to the world’s youngest population with a median age of 19 years, according to UN figures.
Globally, most of those who have died have been aged over 80.
“The pandemic has largely been in younger age groups.. about 91% of Covid-19 infections in sub-Saharan Africa are among people below 60 years and over 80% are asymptomatic,” said the World Health Organization (WHO).
Scientists highlight that what is likely behind Africa’s low caseload is, first and foremost, the fact that most countries implemented draconian protective measures very early on.
The country of Lesotho even imposed a nationwide lockdown before they had a single case.
It declared an emergency and closed schools on March 18, and went into a three-week lockdown about ten days later.
But only days after the lockdown was lifted, did Lesotho find its first confirmed cases. In a population of more than 2 million, the country has so far recorded about 1700 cases and 40 deaths.
Underdeveloped transport system
The underdeveloped transport systems within and between African countries appear to have been a blessing in disguise. It means that Africans do not travel as much as people do in more developed countries, minimizing contact among people of different countries.
Furthermore, Nigeria – Africa’s most populous country has had its borders with neighboring countries including Benin and Niger closed to curb smuggling and boost local production. This measure which has been in place since August 2019, appears to have significantly reduced contact among different people in West Africa.
The low number of coronavirus in Africa is not just down to luck, it shows that with individual action, and following public health measures, Covid-19 can be controlled.