Africa's young population may offer some protection against coronavirus - WEF

3D art based in microscope images of the corona virus from the 2020 outbreak in Wuhan, China
3D art based in microscope images of the corona virus from the 2020 outbreak in Wuhan, China

While the World Economic Forum expects that African healthcare could be strained by the coronavirus, it also believes the continent's young population could help soften the blow.

"One important fact to keep in mind is that across Sub-Saharan Africa, only 3% of the population is over 65. This is dramatically lower than similar age brackets in China (11%) and Italy (23%)," says Elsie Kanza, Head of Africa at the World Economic Forum. 

According to the US government, early data suggests that older people are likelier to suffer seriously illnesses due to the novel coronavirus.

An Italian government report shows that by the first week of March, the average age of Italians who died from the coronavirus was 81. According to another report, only two of the people who died in the epicentre of the Italian crisis, Lombardy, were younger than 50.

"While young adults seem to suffer less with the virus, we could still see increased strain on healthcare systems," says Kanza.

Referring to the South African government decision to declare a national disaster on Sunday, Kanza said preparedness is crucial. "Limiting the spread of the virus will ensure hospital and healthcare systems do not come under further strain.  Public-private cooperation has never been needed more."

She says that many African countries are deploying lessons learned from the Ebola outbreak.

The African Centre for Disease Control – the pan-African authority on public health created to respond to Ebola – has been supporting countries with the repurposing of screenings, surveillance systems and isolation wards for covid-19. 43 countries can currently test for the virus.

Economically, Kanza says the slowdown of European markets – a major trading partner for Africa – will result in a temporary hit to the continental economy. "But the good news is that China’s factories are starting to switch back on and this could mitigate lasting damage."

Compiled by Helena Wasserman

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