As at the early hours of March 31, 2020, the much dreaded global pandemic, COVID-19, better known as Coronavirus, has infected over 787,797 and claimed more than 37,816 lives, most of which are in Europe.
The virus which emerged in the twilight days of 2019 first appeared in Wuhan, China, and then it was seen as a Chinese problem and the rest of the world ignored warnings and failed to take due and adequate precautions. The result is the virus’ death stroll claiming more victims in the distant lands of Spain and Italy and infecting more people in the USA than it has in China where it emerged.
A cursory look at the virus death map shows that African countries have the least victims while Europe has a higher rate.
But why is this so? Why do we have lower fatalities in Africa?
First, it is pertinent to mention what Marshall McLuhan in 1964 referred to as the global village, a phenomenon of the world’s culture shrinking and expanding at the same time due to technological advances that allow for instantaneous sharing of culture. In other words, it is an interconnected world. What he did not mention back then is that the global village phenomenon will also lead to instantaneous sharing of opportunities and adversities. Thus, we are foolish ignoring what happens in other parts of the globe, feeling it is not our concern. If we do, as the World is a global town square, we would definitely get soiled by the spewed oil. This is what is currently playing out in the world in the face of coronavirus pandemic.
Now back to our question. Why is the virus death toll low in Africa?
- The virus is said to claim more of the elderly whose immunities are weakened by age and ailments. For instance, the average age of those killed so far in Italy is 78 years. On the other hand, Africa, described as the young continent, has an average age of 19.7 years according to Worldometers while the world economic forum states that the ten youngest populations are in Africa. This is contrasted with Europe which has a median age of 43.1 and the USA with 38.2
- The second factor is tourism. Because of the level of economic well-being, many Europeans are able to engage more in outdoor activities, recreation, beaches and tourism. Besides, European cities are global aviation hubs with heavy traffic 24/7. Consequently, even when the virus was relatively new, most of the travelers in and out of Wuhan were Europeans who inadvertently and unknown to themselves were exposed and infected. They got back home and through the many outdoor activities including sporting events, infected others and the virus “bloomed in the city”.
- African nations, however, are poor and about 75% of those who travel outside of the continent do so for business reasons. This invariably has worked to keep it low within the continent. The cases we have, such as those in Nigeria, were all imported by politicians, families of politicians, top level bankers, oil sector workers, government functionaries, and multinational company workers. Otherwise, we may still be free from the virus.
- The third but unproven factor is the tropical climate and sun which as suggested in some quarters inhibit the spread, infection and fatality rate of the virus in Africa. According to the WHO, the virus dies at temperatures above 60 degrees centigrade, which invariably means that temperatures closer to that weaken the motility of the virus. This is further buttressed by a new study by Jingyuan Wang, Ke Tang, Kai Feng and Weifeng Lv that ‘high temperature and high relative humidity significantly reduce’ spread of COVID-19
- Another factor (still unproven though) is that chloroquine destroys the virus. If this is true, then it explains the low death rate across Africa as due to the prevalence of mosquitoes and malaria, Africans either consume chloroquine phosphate in tablets, capsules and injections or consume it as local herbs and herbal mixtures. Thus a measure of immunity from these chloroquine and other malaria drugs may be acting as inhibitors to the virus in Africa.
- A final factor (also unproven but worthy of note) is the struggling nature of African people. Due to poverty and dependency ratio, and the absence of social security and health schemes, each one must struggle for himself and family. So from January to December, sunrise to sunset, people in Africa are tolling for their daily bread. The hot paced activities act a force attack against the virus. These may also explain why those infected and dead so far in African places like Nigeria are those well off economically and less affected by the “African rat ace”.
Well, everything and every situation have its own advantages and disadvantages.
- Another factor could be the paucity of data, statistics and testing centers. The World Health Organization says test, test and test. But ironically, African countries have weak and poor health infrastructure and very few testing laboratories. In Nigeria for instance, up till March 20 there were only five equipped coronavirus testing laboratories located in Lagos (2 labs), the FCT (1 lab), Edo State (I lab), and Osun State (1 Lab). Two additional labs were recently set up in Ibadan, Oyo State and in Abakiliki, Ebonyi State, bringing the total to seven in a nation of 36 States plus the Federal FCT, spanning over 923,768 square kilometers and with a population of well over 200 million. Invariably, this translates to about 29 million persons per testing laboratory. How feasible is this? So it is possible that the cases are many and deaths from coronavirus many but paucity of data, statistics and testing may deceptively be keeping the figures down.
In either case, African countries should learn from the sad experiences and examples of China, Italy, Spain, the UK and the USA. They should all start now to implement testing, quarantine and lockdown measures to trap and eradicate the virus. Failure to do this may lead to dire consequences for the already beleaguered continent and people.
The recent false start in Nigeria in the lockdown measure is sad and militate the achievement of the intended purposes. As soon as the Federal Government announced the lock down involving Lagos, Ogun and the FCT, the Ogun State Governor threw spanner to the works and opted to delay the well intentioned lockdown in his State for four days till Friday, April 3rd. The reasons given do not seem justifiable considering the magnitude of the issues facing the populace. Besides, Ogun is the only gateway to Lagos that if the lockdown works in Lagos and fails in Ogun the efficacy in Lagos will collapse over night. The interconnectivity between Lagos and Ogun is more than the global interconnectivity that has made the world a global village and town square of today.
All hands must therefore be on deck to fight this ravaging pestilence to a standstill.
One praises the generous spirit of Aliko Dangote, Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr, Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, Femi Otedola, Dr. Abdul Samad Rabiu of BUA Group, Herbert Wigwe, Tony Elumelu, Segun Agbaje, Our distinguished Senators and Honorable House Members, UBA, Access Bank, other philanthropists and the private sector organizations towards fighting this menace to a total defeat. The States must show full dedication and commitment and utilize these donated resources in the most efficient way for in the end, it is our lives and our Nation that are at Stake.
About the Author
Chimaobi James Agwu is the National Director of BNI Nigeria as well as an Executive Director with Deva Access International, a Nigerian based NGO with focus on human development.