Openness to the World: Interrogating the Relatively Low COVID-19 Deaths in Africa
As I write, there are over 4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the globe with 286,353 deaths. With a total death of 81,539, the United States alone accounts for a little below one-third of the total deaths recorded so far from the virus. The figure is not looking good in Europe either, as we see at least five European countries featuring in the top 10 worst hit countries globally. Today, there are over 150,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the whole of Europe.
In contrast, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the entire African continent now stand at 2,344, accounting for only 0.81% of the global deaths. For a continent of about 1.2 billion people, the number is staggeringly low.
Clearly, this trajectory contradicts the prediction of Melinda Gates on CNN wherein she predicted dead bodies lying on the streets of Africa. Also, it contradicts the projections of the the Lancet report which assessed and ranked the vulnerability of African countries to the virus.
So, why exactly is the African continent an onlooker on the global stage of the novel Coronavirus pandemic? There are several answers to this enigmatic question. But unfortunately, nobody can tell for sure to what extent the answers are correct or not. This article will focus on the answer that tend to assume that deaths are low in Africa because it is less opened to the rest of the world.
In this regard, a fine article published by Theafricareport.com claims that the reason for the slow spread and the low deaths from COVID-19 in Africa is because the continent is not as open to tourists as the rest of the world. Consequently, the virus could not spread and kill as many people as possible like it has done and still doing in other parts of the world.
The article then goes on to trace the history of pandemics from the outbreak of SARS in 2002 to the ramblings of H1N1 in 2009 and points out, quite plausibly, that Africa had always been an onlooker for the same reason - less open to the rest of the world. So, it is only natural that travel-related diseases have less effect on Africa.
While the points raised in the above article cannot be taken for granted, it does not sufficiently explain the reason why COVID-19 is not ravaging Africa as expected and projected by western media. For instance, Iran is estimated to enjoy only about 5 million visitors each year but it has so far confirmed 6,733 deaths from COVID-19.
But South Africa enjoys about 16 million visitors annually, which is 3 times well over the annual number of visitors to Iran, yet it has only confirmed 206 COVID-19 deaths. Therefore, we cannot entirely claim that Africa has low COVID-19 deaths relative to the rest of the world because, unlike most parts of the world, it is less visited by foreigners.
Moreover, for a highly infectious disease that the WHO has described the novel coronavirus to be, one would have expected, like Melinda Gates and others have predicted, that the virus should have spread and brought Africa to its kneels by now since Egypt (and some other African countries like Algeria, Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia, Nigeria, etc days later) recorded its index case on the 14th of February 2020.
Today, only 533 deaths from 9,746 cases have been recorded in Egypt in three months. This figure is very insignificant when it is compared with Italy which recorded its first two cases between the end of January and the beginning of February this year. Italy has now recorded 30,739 deaths from a staggering 219,814 confirmed cases.
From the above, we cannot only say that the deaths from COVID-19 is very low in Africa but that the spread is also very slow when compared to the rest of the world. The openness of Africa to the rest of the world could be a reason why the virus arrived on the African shores belatedly but it cannot sufficiently, and in all honesty, explain why the deaths from the novel Coronavirus are very low on the continent. Of course, that is even if we agree that the continent has very low reported cases because of the feeble testing efforts of the various governments.