COVID-19: Out of Africa

COVID-19: Out of Africa
Close ties between Africa and China are most likely to accelerate the transmission of COVID-19 into the African continent.

Chinese outreach into Africa

Africa and China are today interwoven as never before; over 2 million Chinese make a livelihood in the African continent and Africans are increasingly visiting China for business and study. China has invested heavily in the aviation sector with Chinese conglomerates involved in the construction of a network of airports across the continent; in Kenya, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone among others in recent years. This has allowed a surge of over 630 percent in the air traffic between China and Africa in the last decadewith as many as eight flights per day.

Today, as COVID 19 cloud looms over China, it is this very air link that has turned into the conduit for the virus to reach African shores.COVID-19, which has already killed over 43000 and infected close to a million globally, has the potential to cause immense misery amongst the African nations with their poor medical infrastructure. It is a disaster waiting to happen.

COVID-19’s effect on the healthcare system

Having overwhelmed the modern health care systems of advanced western countries like Italy and Spain and with even the American system tethering on edge,the virus is now advancing into the developing economies of Asia and the most vulnerable countries of Africa where the impact will be calamitous.

The World Health Organization (WHO) partnered the struggle of African nations to contain infectious diseases like Ebola in the recent past.It is now raising the red flag of its “biggest worry,” the virus fanning out in African countries with their fragile health systems.

The 2019 global health security index, a project from the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security, ranked 195 countries in their ability to avert, identify, and counter disease outbreaks. More than 30 African nations were marked as “least prepared.”According to the UN, in 2018, approximately 470,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa succumbed to AIDS and related causes.

Presently 26 of Africa’s 54 countries have confirmed cases of COVID. The likelihood of a mass outbreak is particularly worrying for a continent with a shortfall of about 1.8 million health workers.

So why has Africa been spared so far?

Major epidemics or pandemics with origins outside Africa have in the past too lagged before reaching the continent. They have also arrived in much smaller numbers compared to other regions.In 2002-2003, SARS showed up in Africa five months after it made its debut in China.South Africa was the 17th country in the world to notify the disease.There was no other country in the continent that has reported a contagion thereafter

In 2009, H1N1 advanced through 60 countries outside of Africa before Egypt reported its first case, two months after it was first detected in Mexico. H1N1 thereafter spread to 41 African countries claiming the lives of 160 people. Overall, the deaths across Africa represented 1% of the total recorded deaths worldwide.

We are now witnessing almost the same trend with COVID19, reappearing after nearly a decade.

An elementary explanation could be that the continent did now have the ability to detect cases up until now. Until very recently, only two African countries — Senegal and South Africa — had laboratories capable of testing and confirming samples for the virus.This situation has now changed with Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia, and Sierra Leone able to follow the testing protocol.

Fearing the worst, WHO has identified 13 priority African countries with strong links to China and has dispatched experts to eight of these to help coordinate preparedness efforts.

Resilience against droplet diseases

An alternate assumption is that the continent is too warm for the COVID-19 virus to thrive.Coronaviruses, including& those viruses responsible for the common cold and flu, can exhibit properties that are seasonal, they spike and wane seasonally.

Many cold and flu viruses peak in winter and die down in warmer weather.

Droplet diseases do not appear to pose serious threats in Africa. SARS, a respiratory disease that is also a Coronavirus, spread through 26 countries in 2003 but failed to gain a grip in Africa. Influenza epidemics are also less virulent ;on the African continent partly because people generally don't live crowded together in densely populated areas. They tend to spend a lot more time out-of-doors than they do in northern countries or in Asia.


  • History is illustrative of the fact that while Africa’s may be prone to HIV/AIDs and Ebola epidemics,both having originated on the continent,there is a hope that African countries may be more resilient and in a tenacious position to avoid a rapid ;spread of COVID19, despite the trade trajectory with China.
  • Both Ebola and COVID-19 are largely family diseases,in the sense that infections spread through family and social groupings. Restrictions on travel and social distancing can slow the spread of the disease, and buy time for experts to better analyses the trajectory of the disease and implement domestic precautions.
  • COVID-19 has also temporarily thwarted talks in Addis Ababa intended at completing the African Continental Free Trade Area, due to be launched on the 11th of July 2020. Missing the July deadline will be an emblematic blow to the continent’s plans to boost trade within Africa. But as they say, economics can wait while the continent tackles an existential threat.