Africa facing a quarter of a billion coronavirus cases, WHO predicts

But continent will have fewer deaths than Europe and US due to younger population and lifestyleSlide1

Karen McVeigh, The Guardian - Photograph: Michele Cattani/AFP via Getty Images

Nearly a quarter of a billion people across 47 African countries will catch coronavirus over the next year, but the result will be fewer severe cases and deaths than in the US and Europe, new research predicts.

A model by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional office for Africa, published in the BMJ Global Health, predicts a lower rate of transmission and viral spread across the continent than elsewhere, resulting in up to 190,000 deaths. But the authors warn the associated rise in hospital admissions, care needs and “huge impact” on services such as immunisation and maternity, will overwhelm already stretched health services. 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. However the disease is likely to linger 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 US and elsewhere, also help to slow its progress.

“The biggest factor that plays out in our numbers is age,” said data analyst Humphrey Karamagi. “We also have very few people who are obese, although the numbers are rising. But not at the levels in the US.”

A report by the UN Economic Commission for Africa in mid-April predicted a much higher infection and death rate on the continent, of 1.2 billion infections and 3.3 million deaths. 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. T he paper has been peer-reviewed. Scientists have also learned much more about the virus and its transmission since the UN research.


Karen McVeigh, The Guardian, 17/05/2020