Perhaps it was the continent that raised the most concerns at the start of the pandemic. Low screening and sequencing capabilities, restricted access to Covid vaccines… How has Africa faced the coronavirus pandemic with a limited health arsenal?
According to official figures, the horrific tidal wave – fortunately – did not occur. How do we explain it? Are the numbers mentioned really representative? 20 minutes make a point.
Low numbers, but unreliable indicators
On paper, Africa is by far the continent least affected by the pandemic. Of the nearly 494 million infections and more than 6.1 million deaths officially recorded on the planet, sub-Saharan Africa has fewer than 8 million cases and fewer than 165,000 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Epicenter, an affiliate of the NGO Doctors NGO. . Without Borders (MSF).
Figures that relate to more than half of the cases in South Africa alone, so far, the continent’s country has paid a heavy price. The state, which has a population of 59 million, has recorded more than 3.7 million people infected with the Corona virus, which has killed more than 100,000 South Africans, according to figures from the National Institute of Diseases. Its researchers estimate, however, that the actual number of victims could be three times higher. Data from the South African Medical Research Council shows that more than 300,000 additional natural deaths have occurred since the beginning of the epidemic.
On the other hand, for the rest of the continent, the numbers are so low that they raise questions. Like Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country with a population of 215 million, which officially registered barely 260,000 cases, including 3,142 deaths, in two years.
Extensive circulation without symptoms
The numbers are so low that they suggest they may have been underestimated. Therefore, in an effort to obtain a more accurate representation of the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, the Epicenter conducted seroprevalence surveys in six countries—Cameroon, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan—to assess the proportion of the population who had actually been in contact with the virus. The results, announced in December 2021, show that Covid-19 has in fact spread widely on the continent.
Thus, researchers discovered that since the beginning of the epidemic in Mali, nearly a quarter of the population was infected with the Corona virus, when official figures showed that 0.07% of people had tested positive. In Niger, while official data shows 0.02% of the population is infected, 42% of Nigerians have been in contact with Covid-19. As well as in Sudan, where nearly 34% of the population was infected, compared to 0.08% according to official figures.
How do we explain this contradiction? With a “history of low use of health services in Africa, raising concerns of under-reporting of cases, lack of objectively verifiable data on the epidemic in Africa, where deaths remain unknown, and limited access to diagnoses”, Valid summarizes Issoufou, MSF’s director of medical operations for West and Central Africa, during the webinar presenting the results of these seroprevalence surveys.
But also through the low circulation of the virus, among the young population who were able to catch Covid-19 without showing any symptoms. “The proportion of people who are asymptomatic is much higher in Africa. They don’t feel the need to get tested,” said Yap Boom, representative of Epicenter Africa. On the continent, the virus has “spread significantly” but has generated “less dangerous forms than elsewhere.” “.
The epidemic under control on the continent in 2022
Despite these incomplete data, the World Health Organization is optimistic about the future, counting on controlling the epidemic in Africa by 2022. In many countries on the continent, pollution is receding, allowing, like France in mid-March, the lifting of recent restrictions. The example of Equatorial Guinea, in Central Africa, which on March 22 lifted the curfew imposed on the population for a period of thirteen months. And South Africa announced, on Monday, through its President Cyril Ramaphosa, in turn, the lifting of all restrictions, stressing that the time has come to revive growth, while the rate of new infections and deaths has decreased significantly since mid-February. According to the leader, the death rate has fallen from a daily average of 420 in July 2021 to just 12 last week. “We hope the worst is behind us, and that better days lie ahead,” he said.
The next day, the Nigerian government lifted most of its restrictions, including a night curfew and restrictions on gatherings, imposed at the start of the pandemic. The presidency said: “The response to Covid-19 was reviewed, taking into account the low number of cases and the risk of new variants arriving in the territory, as well as the availability of vaccines” in the country.
At the moment, Africa remains the Red Lantern in the world in terms of vaccination. “Even if it is lagging behind, with only 11% of the adult population fully immunized, we now have a regular supply of doses,” Dr Machidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said in mid-February. For Yap Bom, aligning the vaccination strategy with realities on the ground should be a priority over immunizing the entire population. With the majority of cases in young people who have developed forms with few or no symptoms, “we can question the need for vaccinations to be administered in a standardized manner, the reason being above all to avoid the most severe diseases,” a-referred to Globalism. Vaccines are essential for those most at risk, namely the elderly or people with comorbid factors.”