Perhaps the continent with the least press attention in the Global battle against coronavirus has been Africa. Cases are rising steadily and not surprisingly the greatest proliferation of cases has been concentrated on the huge African tourism spots of South Africa and Egypt. Africa could well be the next hotspot as the global pandemic appears to have left no country untouched. Against a backdrop of poor health infrastructure and often crowded inner-city living conditions, the effects of COVID-19 on Africa could potentially be catastrophic. Many Countries on the Continent have far lower flows of tourism and business travel both in and out than compared to elsewhere, which many attributed to Africa’s lower number of cases. But is this is the full story of how COVID-19 is behaving in a local African context?                                                                                   

Man holding bottle of hand sanitizer       

 By mid-August 2020 Africa had reported its millionth official COVID-19 case and approximately 23,000 deaths recorded. However every continent is unique and ecological, cultural, social and political factors all play a part. Such local factors may also help to explain why Africa appears to have been spared the full brunt of COVID-19 and incredibly may continue to do so, while puzzling scientists at the same time.

Research focussed on antibody surveys suggest far higher numbers of Africans have been infected with coronavirus than the official figures suggest. This is proving difficult for scientists to explain, as deaths have remained comparably low. The lack of testing capability compared to elsewhere would help explain why antibody data is showing far more previous infections than the official data. What however remains much more unclear is why Africans appear to be far less impacted health wise by COVID-19.

Local community women has received her food ration at GFYA

Scientists believe the answer may in part lie in the young populations in Africa, with age protecting many. Scientists are also beginning to examine whether previous exposure to much milder coronaviruses, could be providing some immunity to Africans. Similarly, whether regular exposure to malaria and other infectious tropical diseases could help their bodies fight COVID-19.

If more definitive findings emerge on this link, it could move Africa towards the alternative and much more controversial approach of ‘herd immunity’. Avoiding lockdowns and control measures that damage the economy and instead let the virus run its course and allow everyone to build up immunity. Shielding and lockdowns would then potentially only be applied to the most vulnerable.

Much more scientific research would however be needed in order to confirm a link between antibody surveys and immunity.

"In other words does exposure to the coronavirus antibody actually prove immunity and if so how long for?"

The answers are still very unclear, however the link between high levels of antibody tests showing previous Covid-19 infection and a low death rate, are certainly extremely encouraging for Africa.

 Part 3 of 3

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Jonathan CONWAY is a Television Broadcast Journalist who has lived and worked in Uganda and kindly dedicated his spare-time to write articles for Bread and Water for Africa UK on a voluntary basis.