Coronavirus mystery: Why aren’t there more cases in Africa?

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Credit: Photo: WHO/Elombat D.

Experts still don’t know why so few cases of the new coronavirus have been reported in Africa, despite China – where the virus originated – being the continent’s top trading partner and the continent having a population of 1.3 billion people.

As of Tuesday morning there were just 95 official cases on the continent, though two countries – Togo and Cameroon – reported their first cases over the weekend. The spread in Africa is of concern because of the fragility of some countries’ healthcare systems, and the continent already faces big public health issues, particularly malaria, TB and HIV.

Vittoria Colizza at Sorbonne University in France, author of a paper about African countries’ vulnerability to covid-19, says a combination of factors could account for the low case numbers.

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One reason could simply be the nature of the virus: a lot of people may be travelling around infected but without symptoms, says Colizza. She suggests under-detection of incoming cases and a lack of capacity to monitor and do active surveillance could also be involved.

African countries are both vulnerable and potentially more resilient to the coronavirus. On the one hand, the population is much younger than in Europe and China. …

The flipside is healthcare systems are generally more fragile in many African countries… .

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