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Updated Mar 3, 2020

To date, only eleven confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported in Africa: five in Algeria, two in Egypt, and one each in Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, and Morocco. With more than 94,162 confirmed cases and 3,219 deaths across eighty-one countries, Africa’s relatively good fortune in avoiding this latest viral outbreak has puzzled health experts. This phenomenon is made all the more surprising given that air travel between Ethiopia and China never stopped when the outbreak first began in the Chinese city of Wuhan. 


Why It Matters

National and international health bodies have worried about coronavirus spreading into Africa given the continent’s fragile health systems and close business and travel relations with China. A study published by The Lancet medical journal that investigated Africa’s preparedness and vulnerability to importing coronavirus found that Algeria, Egypt, and South Africa were the most likely to have cases, but are also the three African countries with the strongest healthcare systems to manage such an outbreak.

It is true that the health systems in many African countries are overburdened and underequipped to deal with an outbreak of a highly infectious disease such as the COVID-19. There is sensitivity, however, about Westerners contending public health systems in Africa won’t be able to deal with such an outbreak, as it perpetuates negative stereotypes of the continent. 

That the first case in sub-Saharan Africa arrived through an Italian man working in Algeria has thrown off models of how the virus is spreading and where it is most likely to show up next. An epidemiologist at the University of Bordeaux, Matthias Altmann, has said that the virus entering sub-Saharan Africa through Nigeria first is relatively good news given Nigeria has resilient enough infrastructure and resources to manage a potential outbreak. And the eight African countries that have previously dealt with an Ebola outbreak have the expertise in screening and isolating people to control an infectious disease.

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