The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire globe and continues to alter life as we know it. But as COVID-19 cases soar in Europe, the United States, Brazil, and India, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa remain comparatively low. With a population of 1.2 billion and weak health infrastructure, experts feared that COVID-19 would severely impact the entire continent of Africa. Speculation is growing that Africa’s youth bulge and warmer climate could help spare most African countries from the worst of the health pandemic.
To start, let’s check some assumptions. What do you think the trend of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa looks like? Check your response in the graph below.
Yet despite the early optimism, confirmed cases in Africa have been increasing rapidly in recent weeks, more than doubling in the month of July alone. As the continent reaches the 1 million confirmed cases mark, leading health experts are expressing concern that the acceleration of cases is only beginning in Africa.
Though a total of 1 million cases may not sound like a lot for a continent representing 17% of the world’s population, we know that many African countries have weak health systems and testing is significantly insufficient overall. The data on confirmed cases is only meaningful in combination with a countries testing policy, how much and who they are testing, and how many tests return a positive result.
While it’s encouraging that most countries offer some form of testing, there is limited data on the actual numbers of tests performed, the number of tests per population, and the rate of positive tests for African countries. Many health policy experts on the continent are expressing concern that testing is simply too low to have an accurate picture of the spread of the virus.
The available data for a few African countries suggests that many positive cases are simply being missed, which allows the virus to spread even further.
To put these numbers in context, whereas in South Africa 26% of tests are positive for COVID-19, in Denmark it is only 0.4%. And while South Africa is testing more than any other African county, as of early August, it had tested 52 people per 1,000 citizens, compared to Denmark’s 276 tests per 1,000 people.
With all these challenges, the number of confirmed cases in Africa are increasing significantly, especially in recent weeks. Here’s a deeper look at the evolution of confirmed cases in African countries since March.