COVID-19 in Africa: Scientist Try to ‚Crack‘ Puzzle of Milder-Than-Expected Pandemic

Written by | Monday, September 21st, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has not hit Africa as badly as many initially feared. Many experts envisioned serious infections leading to hundreds of thousands or even millions of deaths, causing the collapse of already shaky health care systems all across the continent. But, fast forward half a year and we already know that this horror scenario has not materialized. Several theories have been put forward to explain this perhaps somewhat puzzling situation.
While rates of infection and death in Europe, North and South Americas, and parts of Asia have sometimes exploded in recent months, Africa has been spared a high COVID-19 mortality rate, although, as many experts warned, people in cities like Cairo, Lagos or Dakar live under very crowded conditions, with many suffering from poverty and a lack of basic hygienic facilities. A group of researchers who have been examining the possible reasons for the mild course of the pandemic in Africa argued in journal Science in August, that “measures such as travel restrictions, curfews and school closures were implemented early in Africa compared with other continents…”
Another important reason why the worst-case scenario has not occurred, according to the authors of the Science article, is age: on average, the population of the African continent is 19.7 years old, which is only half the average age of people in the US. Although the novel coronavirus also infects the young, it is mainly the elderly who come to hospitals with severe cases of the disease and die from the infection. The low recorded infection rates could also be related to this low average age in Africa because young people are more often asymptomatic.
The same Science article also puts forward the argument that immune systems influenced by African environments could be another reason for the comparatively mild course of the pandemic. “It is increasingly recognized that the immune system is shaped not only by genetics but also by environmental factors, such as exposure to microorganisms and parasites. This educates the immune system to protect against invading pathogens not only specifically but also nonspecifically,” the scientists argue. This could in turn decisively mitigate the severity of an infectious disease and be another reason why the expected high number of victims on the continent has so far failed to materialize.

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