Africa’s experience with several infectious diseases and dominance of the younger population may be the reason the continent is having a lower mortality rate in the second wave of coronavirus, World Economic Forum report says.
The report, which draws on opinions of hundreds of executives and academics associated with the WEF, as well as risk-management specialists, said “experience with infectious diseases meant health professionals and political leaders in Africa were on high alert and coordinating as soon as the region’s first cases were reported.”
“Relatively swift policy responses to limit spread and the benefits of a younger age profile compensated for health system weaknesses and kept mortality rates lower than they might have been in the initial wave,” the report added.
It, however, noted that infection and mortality rates were rising at the time of publication.
The report is usually published just ahead of the WEF’s ananual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. This year, the meeting has been postponed because of the pandemic until May, when it will take place in Singapore. Next week, the forum is organizing a virtual meeting that includes addresses from world leaders.
However, the WEF report contradicts some other reports concerning the virus’s impact on the continent.
The U.N. Economic Commission for Africa in April 2020 predicted up to 300,000 deaths in 2020 if the virus couldn’t be contained on the continent. Yet it was the U.S, with a superior health system, that hit that grim milestone first, and so far, Africa has been largely spared the worst of the devastation experienced by the rest of the world.
As of January 2021, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported about 3.3 million cases and 81,861 deaths for a population of 1.2 billion.
Even Bill Gates, a co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), said the world still does not have enough data to understand why COVID-19 numbers have not been as high as predicted in Africa.
“One thing I’m happy to have been wrong about—at least, I hope I was wrong—is my fear that COVID-19 would run rampant in low-income countries,” Gates wrote in his end of the year note. “So far, this hasn’t been true. In most of sub-Saharan Africa, for example, case rates and death rates remain much lower than in the U.S. or Europe and on par with New Zealand, which has received so much attention for its handling of the virus.
“The hardest-hit country on the continent is South Africa—but even there, the case rate is 40 per cent lower than in the U.S., and the death rate is nearly 50 per cent lower.”
According to Gates, “more than 1.6 million people have died in the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 75 million cases and tens of trillions of dollars in economic damages”.
Also, a report by TIME, said the data given in the continent leaders might not actually reflect the reality on the ground.
Overall, testing for COVID-19 cases has been comparatively limited on the continent, which could be contributing to lower case numbers it reported.
South Africa, which has the highest testing rate in the region, was only performing 0.68 tests a day per 1,000 people in mid-December, compared to 4.3 in the U.S., according to Our World in Data (Denmark, which has the highest test rate, is currently performing 15.1 tests per 1,000). That might explain why the continent has lower-than-expected reported case rates.
The TIME report further stressed that one way to estimate the true impact of the virus is to look at total excess deaths this year, calculated by comparing the overall mortality figures in 2020 to previous annual averages.
“Those figures in South Africa point to the possibility of a higher number of deaths from COVID-19 than the official records show.”
A report by the South African Medical Research Council noted that South Africa saw some 17,000 extra deaths from natural causes between early May and mid-July, a 59% increase in excess deaths compared to what was expected over the same period. However, the Africa CDC says there has been no indication that a large number of COVID-19 deaths have been missed.