Early modeling assumed “a large number of Africans would just die,” John Nkengasong, the Africa CDC director, tells the AP. But he wasn’t ready to give in.
Africa’s 1.4 million confirmed cases and ~34,000 deaths—for a continent with 1.3 billion people are far lower than early projections.
What Africa—and Nkengasong—did right:
- Created a 54-country-strong alliance
- Developed a online purchasing platform for PPE (“the only part of the world I’m aware of that actually built a supply chain,” says Gayle Smith, a former USAID chief)
- Online training for everything from safely handling bodies to genomic surveillance
Nkengasong, a Cameroon-born virologist, warns against complacency, however, saying “a single case can spark a new surge.” He's set to be honored as a “relentless proponent of global collaboration” with the Gates Foundation’s Global Goalkeeper Award today,
County Close-ups: South Africa & Kenya
Consider South Africa: Back in March, Salim Abdool Karim, chair of South Africa’s COVID-19 advisory panel, “had visions of Italy… that we're going to get overwhelmed,” according to the BBC. That didn’t happen: Very few hospitals were overwhelmed, and the official death toll—about 15,000—is much lower than predicted.
And Kenya: A few weeks ago, cemeteries dug mass graves amid a peak of 600+ cases/day in August—but then cases suddenly plummeted, to under 100 in the past 3 days, NPR Goats and Soda reports.
John Ojal’s team at the Kenya Medical Research Institute Wellcome Trust Research Program created a statistical model to explain, and learned that in 2 major cities—Nairobi and Mombasa—30-40% of the population were exposed, just like hard-hit parts of New York City. But the death rate has been much lower, and about 90% percent of Kenyans who tested positive were asymptomatic.
Scientists still don’t know why the pandemic in Africa has been milder than expected—whether it’s the younger population, or cross-immunity with some other virus, or other factors.
Now, the Bad News
Malaria mortality could double in 2020—from 386,400 to 768,600 in a worst-case scenario—because of the pandemic’s disruptions to malaria control in Africa, according to a study published yesterday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.