A UK-based medical scientist has told British parliamentarians how he and fellow scientists are baffled by the way the COVID-19 virus is behaving in Africa.
Prof Francesco Checchi, a specialist in epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said this week he was particularly confounded by the fact that the pandemic has peaked far earlier in many African countries than predicted.
He was speaking to MPs as part of the International Development Committee inquiry into Humanitarian Crises Monitoring: Impact of Coronavirus.
Africa’s pattern is ‘confounding’ scientists
“We are certainly observing a pattern that confounds us a little,” he said, noting that it was “broadly true” that coronavirus had not behaved in expected ways in African countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan and Somalia.
“In a few important case studies – Kenya, for example – what seems to be happening is the epidemic may be peaking earlier than our naive models predicted,” Checchi noted.
Yemen, an Middle Eastern country on the Gulf of Aden and close to Djabouti, had also seen a similar pattern while engulfed by a civil war and humanitarian crisis that left little scope for proper COVID-19 prevention.
Minimal prevention, yet virus has peaked
“Yemen is one of the few countries where, to my knowledge, there is almost no prevention of Covid transmission,” Checchi stated.
“[Yet] the anecdotal reports we’re getting inside Yemen are pretty consistent that the epidemic has, quote unquote, passed.
“There was a peak in May [and] June across Yemen, where hospitalisation facilities were being overwhelmed. That is no longer the case.”
People may have acquired herd immunity
He believed it was possible that the population had acquired some form of herd immunity, at least temporarily.
Similarly, in Africa it was conceivable that people had a pre-existing immunity to the virus because of their exposure to other infections.
In August, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, told a conference of African health ministers that numbers of new cases were declining.
WHO says cases are now going down
“We are seeing that we have had what seems to have been a peak, and now we have the daily numbers of cases being reported overall in the region going down,” she said during an online meeting.
On 10 September, the BBC reported that there has been an average 10% fall in the number of weekly new cases being reported, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control (CDC).
But the CDC warned that Africa is not out of the woods yet.
“I don’t think we are over the first wave yet, we have not yet hit the bottom at all,” said the CDC’s John Nkengasong.
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