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Why is the infection and death rate from Coronavirus lower in Africa?

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Posted: May 27, 2020

It has been 5 months since the coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, China and taken the world by storm, especially America and Europe. Though Africa has many direct flights with China, it took much longer for the virus to appear here and has also had a smaller toll to date. As of the writing of this article on 25th May, the continent has 111,812 known cases, 3,354 deaths and 45,001 recoveries.

You might argue that we are just a little behind other parts of the world and that our infections will take off as theirs have. While this is possible, Kenya, for example, is still only getting a maximum of 123 new cases per day, nothing close to the more than 10,000 new cases per day that we being seen in places like England.

Or you may conjecture that African countries have done less testing or are under-reporting cases. But then you would likely see over-flowing hospitals like in New York or you’d see bodies lying on the street like in Ecuador, where the government systems have become overwhelmed.

So, how has Africa avoided a major catastrophe (at least so far)? The answer is that nobody really knows, but here are some likely contributing factors:

Earlier Lockdowns

Although it took some time for coronavirus to arrive in Africa, as soon as it did, African countries were quick to shut down borders and keep their citizens on lockdown. In Kenya, the first case of the virus was discovered on March 12th and by March 15th, the government had initiated travel restrictions for foreigners and mandatory quarantine for returning citizens. The government then set a 7 pm to 5 am curfew for all citizens which has further helped in controlling the spread. Shortly after, schools were closed, large gatherings banned and many other stringent measures put in place. These types of lockdowns have proved very effective in preventing the spread of the virus in Kenya and in many countries around the world.

Younger population

It has been proven that young people suffer less severe effects from Coronavirus than adults. The reason for lesser deaths in Africa can, therefore, be attributed partly to the large youth population present in African countries. According to Worldometers, in Kenya, the median age of the population is 20.1 years old, whereas in Italy, for example, it’s 47.3.

Low obesity levels

People suffering from obesity and diabetes have a higher risk of dying from Coronavirus. In the UK, the NHS confirmed that a quarter of the patients who died with coronavirus had diabetes. Although the number of people with diabetes and obesity is increasing in Africa’s largest cities, the number is still significantly lower on the continent than the rest of the world.

Vitamin D abundancy

In the Northern hemisphere, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities have been hit quite hard by Coronavirus which has led some scientists to link that to a possible lack of vitamin D. People in Africa are generally less prone to flu outbreaks especially those living near the equator and although some suffer from vitamin D deficiency, it is not as severe as those living in the north. Recent studies have confirmed the crucial role Vitamin D plays in viral infections and as such, it is safe to assume the abundancy of Vitamin D is playing a role in preventing the widespread of coronavirus cases in Africa.

Living outdoors

Activities such as cooking, washing and grocery shopping are mostly practised outdoors in Africa. Therefore, much of the population spends much of its time outdoors or in well-ventilated indoor spaces. A lecturer in virology at the University of Cambridge, Dr. Chris Smith, claims that coronavirus transmission outside is very low due to the readily available fresh air that dilutes the virus.

Though there is still a chance that Africa’s infection rate could take off like in the US or Europe, we can hope that these factors keep us at least a little more protected than those countries.

Photo by Amevi Wisdom on Unsplash

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