As the deadly Wuhan coronavirus spreads around the world, one continent is suspiciously absent from the statistics : Africa. It, along with South America, has recorded zero cases of the new disease despite its increasingly intimate links with China.
Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest airline, is still running flights from China. As much as 1,500 passengers arrive from China each day – many of whom go on to travel to other African countries for business and tourism. Could Ethiopian airlines be importing the coronavirus into a continent that can’t handle such a deadly disease?
For Africa’s leaders, this would be a nightmare scenario. But thankfully, the continent’s tropical weather may do a better job fighting the coronavirus than its governments ever could.
Africa is no stranger to infectious disease. The continent is still reeling from the Ebola outbreak from 2014-16, which went on to infect 28,600 people , killing a staggering 11,325. The outbreak was only brought to heel by a massive international response.
Ebola was so deadly because of the unique conditions in Africa that make controlling a deadly epidemic difficult. Africa is home to many of the poorest countries in the world. These nations do not have healthcare systems that are strong enough to handle a massive epidemic.
According to Oyewale Tomori, a fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Nigeria isn’t ready to handle the coronavirus.
Tomori questions his government’s readiness, stating the following to Bloomberg :
If it (the coronavirus) comes, what next do you do? Do you have the isolation wards where you can keep the people? Do you have proper systems of monitoring? Do you have laboratory diagnostics for it? In each of these areas, I don’t think we are measuring up to par, and that is my worry.
Oyewale may be right.
Despite being Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria’s electrification rate is among the lowest in the world. Despite producing 1.7 million barrels of oil per day , it’s plagued with power cuts and blackouts – issues that make running a modern healthcare system impossible. The situation is so bad that the nation’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, frequently travels to other countries for basic healthcare services.
There is no way Nigeria would be able to handle a coronavirus outbreak. If the disease spread there, the death toll would be devastating.
Despite Africa’s woeful unpreparedness for coronavirus pandemic, its biggest airline, Ethiopian Airlines, continues to run flights from China. This includes a flight to Chongquing – a municipality that borders the hard-hit Hubei province. This decision has drawn the ire of many African leaders.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has urged Ethiopian airlines to cancel flights to China. He states the following :
Our worry as a country is not that China cannot manage the disease. Our biggest worry is diseases coming into areas with weaker health systems like ours.
Kenyatta’s comments are richly ironic considering that his government recently spent $1.5 billion on an arguably unnecessary Chinese-built railroad . Perhaps Kenyatta should be worried about his own priorities instead of whining about the “weak healthcare system” his government should have fixed decades go.
Thankfully, the world doesn’t have to rely on people like Kenyatta or Buhari to prevent the spread of coronavirus into Africa and the rest of the world. The weather may do a better job than they ever could. According to research, respiratory illnesses like the coronavirus have a hard time spreading in hot and humid weather.
Channel News Asia states the following:
Studies showed that the “regular” coronavirus (which is one of the causes of the common cold) can survive on surfaces 30 times longer in places with a temperature of 6 degrees Celsius compared to those where the temperature is 20 degrees Celsius and humidity levels are high.
Warm temperatures may also prevent the coronavirus from spreading to places like India, and may also lead to the end of the outbreak in China when warmer weather returns.
Africa may have lucked out this time. The continent’s warm and humid climate makes it harder to spread the winter-loving coronavirus. Healthcare infrastructure left over from the Ebola outbreak will help authorities contain any cases that do arise. But the coronavirus should serve as a wake-up call to Africa’s leaders.
It is 2020 and there is no excuse for an entire continent to be largely unprepared for modern challenges. People like Muhammadi Buhari and Uhuru Kenyatta put the whole world in danger by not developing their healthcare systems to modern standards. While this is easier said than done for developing nations, hopefully they can address the problems before the next outbreak hits.