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Africa and the Coronavirus Epidemic
Ethiopian medical workers distribute cake to a COVID-19 patient on September 11 at a makeshift hospital in Addis Ababa. (Amanuel Sileshi/AFP via Getty Images)

Africa and the Coronavirus Epidemic

Al-Etihad, UAE, September 11

The coronavirus epidemic has been accompanied by many contradictions and mysteries since it appeared in our lives. Medical professionals and scientists have repeatedly failed at explaining the exact pathology of the disease and its side effects. One of the most perplexing mysteries remaining unsolved to date is the one related to the low rate of COVID-19-related morbidity and mortality on the African continent. Indeed, Africa might be the continent least affected by the pandemic. This is despite the obvious fact that public healthcare systems in most African countries are among the worst in the world, especially in comparison to rich, industrialized countries in which healthcare budgets sometimes exceed the budgets of several African states combined. Several explanations have been proposed to date. The first suggests that the data reported by African governments is simply inaccurate. However, even if this is true and African figures have been grossly deflated, there still exists a wide gap with Western nations that cannot be explained. Therefore, a different theory suggests that the gap stems from demographic differences, specifically the median age of the population. In general, the median age of the population in most African countries is about half the median age of those living in European countries. The elderly, who constitute a significant proportion of the population in Western societies, is the age group most likely to die from coronavirus-related illnesses. However, we know that even young people are not immune. A third theory posits that the gap has to do with climate. According to this approach, high temperatures in Africa limit the spread of the virus and slow down the disease. However, we already know that the virus continued to spread even during the peak of summer, including in arid parts of the Middle East. Indeed, June and July marked a second wave of morbidity in Europe. Therefore, the only possible explanation relates to genetics. According to this explanation, exposure to viral diseases that share a similar genetic makeup to the coronavirus can actually increase one’s resistance to COVID-19. Given the widespread poverty and poor sanitary conditions prevalent in many parts of the continent, it is possible that many people in Africa have developed a kind of cross-immunity that enabled their systems to better respond to the virus. This is a theory that, if proven correct, would dramatically change the way researchers and scientists approach the disease and work to prevent its spread. – Akmal Abdul Hakim (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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