Scientists mystified, wary, as Africa avoids COVID disaster

HARARE -- Nyasha Ndou, a Zimbabwean woman, was busy selling vegetables and fruits at a market in a rural township near Harare. He kept his mask on as hundreds of others, most unmasked, jostled for their business. The coronavirus has been quickly relegated here, just as in Zimbabwe. Instead, political rallies, concerts, and home gatherings are returning.

Scientists mystified, wary, as Africa avoids COVID disaster

HARARE -- Nyasha Ndou, a Zimbabwean woman, was busy selling vegetables and fruits at a market in a rural township near Harare. He kept his mask on as hundreds of others, most unmasked, jostled for their business. The coronavirus has been quickly relegated here, just as in Zimbabwe. Instead, political rallies, concerts, and home gatherings are returning.

Merve Dikici
Merve Dikici
20 November 2021 Saturday 15:54
387 Reads
Scientists mystified, wary, as Africa avoids COVID disaster

HARARE -- Nyasha Ndou, a Zimbabwean woman, was busy selling vegetables and fruits at a market in a rural township near Harare. He kept his mask on as hundreds of others, most unmasked, jostled for their business. The coronavirus has been quickly relegated here, just as in Zimbabwe. Instead, political rallies, concerts, and home gatherings are returning.

Ndou stated, "COVID-19 has gone. When did you last hear about anyone who died from COVID-19?" He said, "The mask is to protect me pocket." "The police demand money so I lose my money if they don't give me a mask," he said.

Officials feared that the coronavirus would spread across Africa and kill millions of people when it first appeared last year. It's not clear what COVID-19 will do to Africa's final toll, but it is possible that a catastrophic scenario could still occur in Zimbabwe and elsewhere on the continent.

Scientists stress that it is difficult to obtain accurate COVID-19 data in Africa, especially with poor surveillance. They also warn that declining coronavirus trends may be easily reversed.

Wafaa El Sadr, Columbia University's chair of global health, stated that there is something "mysterious” going on in Africa. She said that although Africa doesn't have the same vaccines or the resources to combat COVID-19 as Europe and the U.S. but they are doing better.

Only 6% of Africans are currently vaccinated. In its weekly pandemic reports, WHO has been describing Africa as "one the least affected areas in the world" for months.

Researchers believe that the continent's younger population, with an average age of 20 years, compared to 43 in Western Europe, has helped it avoid the worst effects of the virus. This is in addition to its lower rate of urbanization and inclination to spend more time outside. Many studies are investigating whether other reasons might exist, such as past infections with parasitic diseases or genetic factors.

Researchers in Uganda reported that COVID-19 patients who have been exposed to high levels of malarial disease were less likely than those with a history of the disease.

Jane Achan, senior research advisor at Malaria Consortium and co-author of the study, stated that she expected to see more negative outcomes in people who have had a history with malaria. "We were surprised to find the opposite -- that malaria might have a protective effect.

Achan suggested that this could be a sign that people may have an old infection with malaria, which might "blunt" their immune system's ability to kick into high gear when they become infected by COVID-19. This research was presented at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene meeting on Friday.

Christian Happi, the director of the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, Redeemer's University, Nigeria, stated that authorities can use vaccines to stop outbreaks. He also credited the large network of community health workers.

He said, "It doesn't always come down to how well-equipped your hospitals are or how much money you have."

Devi Sridhar (chair of global public and health at the University of Edinburgh) said that African leaders haven’t received the credit they deserve for their quick actions. He cited Mali’s decision to close its borders prior to COVID-19 arrived.

Sridhar stated that he believes there is a new approach to COVID in Africa. He said that these countries approach COVID with humility, having experienced Ebola, Polio, and Malaria.

The coronavirus, which has decimated South Africa in recent months, is believed to have caused more than 89,000 deaths. This virus is the continent's leading cause of death. While there are gaps, the African authorities have not reported large numbers of unexpected deaths that could be related to COVID. WHO data shows that Africa accounts for only 3% of global deaths. Compared to this, 46% and 29% of deaths in Europe and the Americas account respectively.

Nigeria is Africa's largest country. The government has registered nearly 3,000 deaths among its 200 million inhabitants. This number is recorded in the United States every two to three days.

Nigerians, like Opemipo, a 23 year-old Abuja resident, are relieved by the low number. She said that although they said that there would be bodies in the streets, nothing has happened.

Nigerian officials began a campaign on Friday to increase West African nation's coronavirus vaccination. Officials hope to immunize half of the population by February, which will allow them to achieve herd immunity.

Oyewale Tomori is a Nigerian virologist and sits on several WHO advisory boards. He suggested that Africa may not need as many vaccines to protect itself as the West. This idea, though controversial, is being seriously considered by African scientists. It is similar to the British proposal of March last year to allow COVID-19 to infect the population.

However, this doesn't mean that vaccines aren’t necessary in Africa.

Salim Abdool Karaim, an epidemiologist at South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal who advised the South African government regarding COVID-19, said, "We must be vaccinating everyone out to prepare for our next wave." "The likelihood of more cases spreading to South Africa is high when you look at Europe's situation."

In poor countries such as Afghanistan, the impact of coronavirus is also relatively limited. Experts predicted that outbreaks in conflict zones would be disastrous.

Hashmat Arifi (23-year-old student from Kabul) said that he had not seen anyone in masks in months. He also spoke out at a recent wedding where he was among hundreds of guests. More than 20 students sit in close quarters unmasked at university classes.

Arifi stated that he hasn't seen any corona cases in recent months. Afghanistan has so far recorded approximately 7,200 deaths from its 39 million population. However, little testing was conducted during the conflict, and the exact numbers of deaths and cases are not known.

Doctors in Zimbabwe were thankful for the temporary relief from COVID-19, but they feared that it would not last.

Dr. Johannes Marisa (president of the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association) advised that people should be vigilant. He is worried that Zimbabwe will be hit by another coronavirus outbreak next month. "Complacency is what will destroy us, because we might be caught unaware," he said.

Comments

Warning!

You have to login for comment. If you are not a member? Register now.

Login Sign Up