Scientists still don’t know why the latest coronavirus is not yet widely spread in Africa, given China–where the virus originated–is the largest trading partner of the continent of 1.3 billion people. According to CNN, 124,518 cases have been reported globally; of this number, CNN states that only a little over a hundred people have been diagnosed with the virus across Africa.

Opinions vary regarding the low number of coronavirus cases in Africa, and these are a few of them;

According to Vittoria Colizza, author of a paper about African countries’ vulnerability to covid-19, a combination of factors could account for the low case numbers.

“One reason could simply be the nature of the virus: a lot of people may be traveling around infected but without symptoms,” says Colizza. She opines that the under-detection of new cases and a lack of capacity for proper surveillance could be a significant problem.

Analysis conducted by Colizza of the first 300 cases transmitted from China shows that surveillance skipped about 60 percent of people who were infected. Another study at the University of Toronto, Canada, led by Ashleigh Tuite has indicated under-reporting in Italy by 27 to 75%, taking into account both imported cases and local transmission.

According to Mary Stephen of the WHO, who resides in Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo, she opines that the running count of cases is correct because more than 400 people have been tried the dreaded virus throughout Africa so far. “I wouldn’t say it’s an underestimate,” she says.

“It will always be possible to miss cases, and that’s always been admitted in the UK,” Mark Woolhouse says at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “But given heightened awareness in Africa, the lack of coronavirus-linked deaths on the continent implies there aren’t yet big undetected outbreaks,” he says. “If there were major outbreaks of the scale that Italy or Iran have had, anywhere in Africa, I would expect those deaths to be well above the radar by now.”

When asked if the low cases are due to a lack of detection or the virus simply not having yet spread to many African countries, David Heymann at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) says: “Nobody can answer that.”

According to Jimmy Whitworth at LSHTM, he doesn’t think we can ascertain why the cases are so low, but it possibly could be isolation measures implemented by countries.

Whitworth says, “a lot’s being done” regarding surveillance at airports and other entry points. He mentioned the coordination of the WHO and the African and US Centres for Disease Control.

“Rwanda, for example, has recruited final year medical students to undertake screening at airports,” says Woolhouse.

According to newscientist.com, “African countries are both vulnerable and potentially more resilient to the coronavirus.”

While several people and some international bodies have expressed their fears about Africa’s ability to handle an outbreak of the deadly virus due to the weak healthcare system in some African countries, a country like Nigeria has a different point of view. For them, the outbreak of Ebola and Lassa fever has prepared them against covid19.

The country’s chairman for National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Director Chikwe Ihekweazu said, “The system worked. We identified this case, diagnosed and isolated within 48 hours of it entering the country,”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been working to improve African countries’ ability to screen for the virus by preparing health workers to care for people affected by it.


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