Scenarios for the possible spread of Covid-19 in Africa were devastating. However, 11 weeks after the first case on the continent (February 14 in Egypt), the experts’ grim predictions have not been confirmed. While 17% of the world’s population lives in Africa, 44,034 cases (1.2% of the total) and 1,788 deaths (0.7%) were recorded until three days ago, according to official figures from the African Center for Control and Prevention. Illness in Addis Ababa. The Black Continent is doing much better than Europe or the United States.
But did the predictions fall so far? From a statistical point of view, Africa resists the predictions made by the Economic Commission of the African Union in mid-April, where there was talk of 300,000 deaths even if African countries were adopting very strict protection measures. But the reality turned out to be very different.
“We appreciate the fact that they have not been verified,” said Yap Bum, an epidemiologist in Yaounde and a regional representative of the Doctors Without Borders epidemiological department. “At the moment, we are pleasantly surprised, but we are closely monitoring the progress of the epidemic,” said Elizabeth Carnell, director of the Pasteur Center in Cameroon. “Africa, at least for now, is not experiencing the outbreak of the crises that are taking place in Europe.”
Concerns, however, remain. The rate of increase in cases last week reached 40%, so the dynamics remain on the rise. North Africa looks more exposed. With 15% of the continent’s population, it represents 38% of all cases in Africa and 62% of deaths. The other two areas where the pandemic is spreading faster than the continent average are Central Africa (+ 58% per week) and West Africa (+ 51%).
These trends confirm the authorities’ warnings. John Nkengasong, director of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which has long warned that Africa needs to be “prepared for the worst,” called for vigilance to be maintained. “It is true that the pandemic in Africa is not as rapid as in Europe,” he said. “But we have to be careful not to rest.” And Mabinge Ngomor, a UN official, recalls that “the imminent arrival of winter in South Africa, an area that already has the highest number of HIV cases, worries us greatly.”
There are other concerns
Are the official data reliable? Are the tests performed (9 per 10,000 inhabitants, compared to 200 in Italy) very few? Does this, according to the World Health Organization, leave much of the population outside, especially in the case of young people who, to a large extent, are asymptomatic? Certainly, Nkengasong admits, many cases have not been diagnosed.
As many tests are not available, they are mainly used for people with severe symptoms, says Leontin Nakamba, a mathematics epidemiologist in Yaounde. Official figures in Cameroon, for example, are estimated to reflect “only 30% of real cases”. This statistical observation, however, removes nothing from the observation that emerges from everyday life, that Africa is not swept away by the Covid-19 epidemic. “We do not see an excessive approach of citizens to health structures in the 45 African countries where we operate,” said Isabelle Defourney, director of operations for Doctors Without Borders.
So how can this be? Since the beginning of the crisis, the relative inability to integrate into the global human movement networks seems to have protected it. “The fact that it is less involved in international mobility has led to a slowdown in the epidemic,” said Anzel Medi, a sociologist at the University of Lausanne who specializes in African health systems.
The ties are obvious
At a time of growing “Kinafriki”, the close links between the Black Continent and China (8 flights a day in 2019, compared to just one flight in 2010), Africa has made an excellent opening to the outside world, nevertheless but it was much smaller than the trade boom between Europe and China – before the pandemic, 12 flights to China departed daily from De Gaulle Airport in France alone.