COVID mystery in Africa


The COVID-19 pandemic, which was first announced around February 2019, is still with us nearly two years later.  It has also been that long since the hunt for a vaccine began.


When the coronavirus, SARS–CoV-2, was found to be the cause of the deadly COVID-19 disease, a vaccine was seen as the only way to deal with it. That was the opinion of the best minds in science and medicine. So far by all statistical measures, the vaccine has been accepted as an effective element in blunting the impact of the deadly disease.

However, we on this side of the Atlantic, and who were largely responsible for developing the vaccine, became convinced that the vaccine solution should apply to every part of the world without exception. So, early in the proceedings, Western governments and associated medical agencies, worried that the pandemic would run amok in Africa because they say that the continent is poor, has no science to compare to ours, and has fragile health systems; millions would die. We must send them vaccines, they ruled. And until we can work up the numbers of vials, Africa must take our advice and wash hands, use masks, isolate, shut down the economy and wait for the vaccine.

Our decision-makers couldn’t shake their colonial thinking and grant that Africa, a continent which is thousands of years old, may just have an idea of how to deal with a virus, even a novel one. African countries that have a long history of dealing and living with parasites of all sorts may just have remedies resulting from thousands of years of knowledge and practices. We could not allow for that in our way of thinking.

Now that we are into what is described as the fourth wave of the pandemic, some of the most prosperous countries in Europe with the most highly developed medical systems, are again being plagued by the epidemic. Yet they, like the US and Canada have large majorities of vaccinated persons; some as high as 80 percent.

Now “poor, hapless” Africa with only about 6 percent of their population vaccinated, has earned the following headline from an ABC report published just a few days ago: “Scientists mystified, wary, as Africa avoids COVID disaster.” It goes on to say “that catastrophic scenario has yet to materialize in Zimbabwe or much of the continent.”

Wafaa El-Sadr, chair of global health at Columbia University said that there is something mysterious going on in Africa. “Africa doesn’t have the vaccines and the resources to fight COVID-19 that they have in Europe and the U.S., but somehow they seem to be doing better,” she said. The World Health Organization says that Africa is “one of the least affected regions in the world.” Furthermore the WHO noted that Africa makes up 3 percent of global deaths while the US and Europe accounts for 46 and 29 percent respectively.

It seems that in addition to having a younger population than say Western Europe, lower rates of urbanization, genetic reasons or immunities gained from past infections of diseases like malaria, are contributing to Africa’s welfare.

But some of the referenced scientists in the ABC report also suggest that even without vaccines Africa is drawing on its considerable experience in dealing with viruses, including local and traditional medicines that are as old as the hills.

Another suggested that “there’s a different cultural approach in Africa, where these countries have approached COVID with a sense of humility because they’ve experienced things like Ebola, polio and malaria.”

Finally, it seems that Africa is receiving the respect it deserves in matters that were heretofore considered to be strictly the domain of superior Western culture and science. Some African scientists are even suggesting that they may not need as many [if any at all] vaccines as the West.

True, this wily virus may not be done with Africa, but if the old continent maintains this positive trend as the virus slouches off into history, it may well be another nail in the old Western colonial coffin.