Bill Gates, the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), has expressed concern over the minimal level of COVID-19 infection in Africa.
The American philanthropist said this in the health sector in his end of the year review on Gates Notes, he wrote “One thing I’m happy to have been wrong about—at least, I hope I was wrong—is my fear that COVID-19 would run rampant in low-income countries”.
An estimated 738 million people live on the African continent. Back in February when Africa recorded its first case of Covid-19, experts feared the worse.
In a report published by The Lancet, Michel Yao, the WHO’s Africa program manager for emergency operations, said: “We all know how fragile health systems [are] in the African continent, they are already overwhelmed by many outbreaks.”
“For us, it is critical to detect coronavirus earlier [so] that we can prevent spreading within communities that can trigger a number of cases that can overwhelm the treatment capacity.”
Similarly, in a presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Seattle back in February, Bill Gates reportedly warned that the coronavirus could overwhelm health systems on the African continent.
“This disease, if it’s in Africa … it’s more dramatic than if it’s in China, even though I’m not trying to minimize what’s going on in China in any way,” Gates said, according to a report by The Telegraph. “Will this get into Africa or not and if so, will those health systems be overwhelmed?”
Gates said the potential impact in sub-Saharan Africa could be “very, very dramatic.”
Drawing some similarities between Covid-19 and Ebola, Gates said, the coronavirus is more concerning than Ebola since it spreads far faster.
“If you look at Ebola, most of the excess deaths were caused because the health service shut down,” Gates said. “It’s not just the direct effect, it’s also the panic, the overload, and the things that affect health workers because you’re already at a very limited capacity.”
However, in his end of the year review on Gates Notes, the global health campaigner expressed relief Africa has been spared the full devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said: “One thing I’m happy to have been wrong about—at least, I hope I was wrong—is my fear that COVID-19 would run rampant in low-income countries.”
“So far, this hasn’t been true. In most of sub-Saharan Africa, for example, case rates and death rates remain much lower than in the U.S. or Europe and on par with New Zealand, which has received so much attention for its handling of the virus.”
“The hardest-hit country on the continent is South Africa—but even there, the case rate is 40 percent lower than in the U.S., and the death rate is nearly 50 percent lower.”
He also stated that they don’t yet have enough data to understand why COVID-19 numbers have not been as high as predicted in Africa.
“We don’t have enough data yet to understand why the numbers aren’t as high as I worried they would get. It helped that some countries locked down early.”
Many experts have tried to explain why Africa has low Covid-19 numbers. Some say it’s due to the fact that some countries locked down early in the pandemic, others say it’s the continent’s youthful demographics. According to Bill Gates, Covid-19 numbers might appear low “because gaps in poor countries’ health care systems are making it hard to monitor the disease accurately”.