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A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that a quarter of a billion people in Africa will likely be infected with coronavirus while 190,000 will die.

The WHO regional office for Africa also said there would be a lower rate of transmission and viral spread across the continent than elsewhere, but this will result in up to 190,000 deaths.

A WHO data analyst, Humphrey Karamagi, in a virtual meeting said the predictions are as a result of data collected from specific countries.

“The biggest factor that plays out in our (Africa) numbers is age. We also have very few people who are obese, although the numbers are rising. But not at the levels in the U.S.,” he said.

WHO in the model report published by BMJ Global Health this week, however, warns that associated rise in hospital admissions, care needs and “huge impact” on services such as immunisation and maternity, will overwhelm already stretched health services in Africa.

“Larger countries, including Cameroon, South Africa and Algeria, would be most at risk, while Nigeria is set to have the largest number of infections overall, followed by Algeria and South Africa,” the report added.

It said, the infection mortality rate across Africa was 0.06 per cent, compared to about 0.1 per cent ‘elsewhere.’

“About one in four (22%) of the one billion people in the countries measured would be infected in the first year of the pandemic,” the model suggests.

‘Lingering on’

The report said the disease is likely to linger in Africa for longer “possibly for several years”.

“The continent’s much younger age profile compared to other countries is behind the lower transmission rates,” the authors say. “Lower rates of obesity in African countries, compared to the U.S. and elsewhere, also help to slow its progress.”

Meanwhile, another report by the UN Economic Commission for Africa in mid-April predicted a much higher death rate on the continent. It said of 1.2 billion African population, 3.3 million deaths may occur.

However, the models are not comparable, because the new model uses data from the WHO African Region, a smaller grouping of the continent that does not include Djibouti, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan or Tunisia.

“This paper has been peer-reviewed. Scientists have also learned much more about the virus and its transmission since the UN research.

“We tried to factor in what we are seeing on the ground,” said Mr Karamagi.

“And we are seeing slower transmission rates in African countries compared to Europe and the US,” he said.

Limited testing

Some commentators have speculated that African countries may be reporting fewer cases because they are not detecting them, but Karamagi points to South Africa, which has “good detection capabilities, but low numbers”.

“There might be an effect of reporting but we do not think that fully explains the rates, when we are seeing the pattern we are seeing. There is something around social-cultural or developmental or environmental structure that is slowing the transmission rates,” he added.

He saod the researchers had calculated the risk of exposure, and estimated the number of infections and deaths for each of the 47 countries in the WHO region.

“We are including a risk of exposure into our estimation of the risk of transmission,” said Karamagi.

“The risk of exposure, which is country specific, is driven by factors including number of people in a household, population density, what proportion of the population lives in slums, and road infrastructure.

“Small countries, including Mauritius, are likely to be the most vulnerable, while sparsely populated countries, such as Niger, Mauritania and Chad, less so.

“Per head of population, Mauritius, Seychelles and Equatorial Guinea are likely to have the highest numbers of cases,” the report added.

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