Scientists Are Dumbfounded That COVID-19 Barely Exists In Africa

(Photo by KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent
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COVID-19 has faded into the background of daily life in Africa, and scientists are unable to figure out exactly why.

With a population of 1.3 billion people, Africa is the world’s second most-populous continent, trailing only Asia, and it’s also the world’s poorest. But despite the gap in resources — Africa has much less access to vaccines than places like the Americas and Western Europe — the continent has experienced the second-lowest number of deaths from the virus of any of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) six designated regions.

Nearly 152,000 Africans have died of COVID-19 since the global pandemic began, according to the WHO. The Western Pacific region has seen just 136,267 deaths, but otherwise Africa has had the best pandemic outcome in the world. In the Americas, more than 2.3 million people have died from the virus, and in Europe, the number is nearly 1.5 million.

Scientists acknowledge that sparse reporting systems and poor data collections play some part in the low numbers, according to The Associated Press. But the astronomical gap between the region and the rest of the world is too substantial to simply chalk up to poor record-keeping, they say.

“I think there’s a different cultural approach in Africa, where these countries have approached COVID with a sense of humility because they’ve experienced things like Ebola, polio and malaria,” Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, told the AP.

“It’s not always about how much money you have or how sophisticated your hospitals are,” said Christian Happi, director of the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases at Redeemer’s University in Nigeria. (RELATED: Drug Overdose Deaths Hit New High During Pandemic)

One factor may be age. The median age in Africa is around 18 years old, about half that of North America and 24 years younger than Europe. In the United States, the median age is around 38, and COVID-19 is far more threatening to older populations than younger ones. Obesity, another significant risk factor, is also less prominent on the continent than elsewhere: Africa and southeast Asia are the least-obese regions in the world.

What’s most stunning to medical experts is that Africa is doing this with limited access to vaccines. Less than 6% of the population is vaccinated, according to the AP.