SEATTLE, Washington — While some of the most medically advanced nations in the world are still struggling to stop the spread of COVID-19, many African nations have had tremendous success in isolating the virus and preventing massive outbreaks. As of May 22, there have been over 100,000 confirmed cases in total in Africa , which is less than in New York City alone.
Africa’s COVID-19 Resistance
Several Western health experts have speculated that Africa has remained sheltered from COVID-19 due to circumstances unique to the continent. Sarah Jarvis, a British doctor and clinical director of the health website Patient, told BBC that the extreme heat typical in many African regions has possibly affected the virus before it can infect others. While there may be some merit to this theory, it cannot be applied to every African nation, as many regions experience cold weather similar to American states. Just as Arizona can be dry and hot while Washington can be cold and rainy, South Africa can experience temperatures as low as below 16 degrees Celsius.
Another theory is that testing for COVID-19 in Africa is limited and cannot adequately report how many live cases there are. However, nations like Rwanda and Liberia argue that their testing gap is smaller than that of the United States. Rwanda effectively used contact tracing—the practice of monitoring individuals who come into contact with an infectious person—at the early onset of the disease. This allowed them to isolate the virus prematurely and is a large factor as to why 222 of their 321 confirmed cases have already recovered. Rwanda has also not had a single reported death due to COVID-19.
Rwanda’s COVID-19 Prevention Strategy
Rwanda also took more drastic measures to combat the virus than most nations at the time. The nation halted commercial flights just five days after its first confirmed case, and two days later the nation was locked down. Moreover, despite China being the largest trade partner for Africa, many nations on the continent banned travel to and from China, significantly reducing the spread of the virus.
African airlines are currently taking the temperature of every passenger before being allowed to travel. This proactive precaution has limited the number of infectious people entering the continent, and is unmatched by the United States and most European countries. While U.K.’s former chief scientific adviser Sir David King has contended that lockdowns across Western countries happened too late, the same can simply not be said about much of Africa.
COVID-19 and Nigeria
Chikwe Ihekweazu, the director of Nigeria’s National Centre for Disease Control, told CNN that the Ebola outbreak between 2014 and 2016 significantly helped the nation prepare for another virus such as COVID-19. West Africa was the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak and roughly 40% of patients who contracted the virus died. However, the outbreak never spread to the United States or Europe in the same manner COVID-19 has. After such a tragic experience, many African nations understood how deadly a disease can be and have since taken necessary precautions and dedicated more resources to handle any unexpected outbreaks in the future.
COVID-19 and Liberia
Moses Massaquoi, who is currently leading Liberia’s case-management system for COVID-19, told The New Yorker that he also believes the Ebola outbreak helped to increase the nation’s preparedness. Although the virus is very different from Ebola, the public health structure for managing the outbreak has already been set in place. According to The New Yorker, nations like Liberia “already have rapid-response teams, trained contact tracers, logistics routes and other public-health tools and protocols in place.” Given their past experiences with Ebola, many African nations were better prepared to handle another unexpected outbreak.
Although Africa has in no way eradicated COVID-19, many nations in the region have been able to control the outbreak. Their success offers a bit of insight for Western nations still struggling to manage the virus’ spread. Despite being home to some of the best healthcare industries in the world, the United States and Europe were hit hard due to a lack of preparation for such an outbreak. Hopefully, nations worldwide can learn from Africa’s precautionary measures and make efforts to contain viruses at the onset in the future.
– Esau Carpenter