“I can’t think of anything else that would explain the numbers of completely asymptomatic people we’re seeing,” Said one virologist Professor Madhi. This was in verbatim to the voice of experts battling to grasp why Africa seems to be recording low infection and death rates, despite being a poverty-stricken continent. 

Wait, what?

A recent post published on BBC South Africa brought to the fore some very jaw-dropping hypotheses, which could rub many people the wrong way, even before an afterthought is allowed. Do these experts mean that living in poverty is now a privilege? Is this a cold comfort or are they being sarcastic? Are we back to the racist conversations that involved comparing black people to monkeys or is this one way of saying, uncilivisation is at the core of our fabric, a pandemic could care less.

These are just some of the questions I couldn’t help but ask myself as I read the post.

Agreeably, It is a fact that many parts of Africa, Kenya being one of them have experienced a flattening curve and we can’t help but savour such news. However, it is also a fact that many parts of Africa including Kenya, were not prepared when this pandemic emerged.

By March, which is when the first case was announced in Kenya, pessimists and optimists alike foretold of the gloom that was upon the country and rightly so, for reason including; 

  • The economy was decelerating even before the pandemic struck. To think that a notorious pandemic like COVID-19 was upon us, even the best of politicians couldn’t gloss over the challenges that awaited.
  • Doctors were going on and off strike like a light switch. This just illustrated the quality of the healthcare system in the country. Hence, when a pandemic that involved people being quarantined hit the country, to say we live by faith was more of a conviction for many, than a statement. 
  • 60 to 70% of Kenya’s urban population live in crowded slums with no basic services and poor sanitation mechanism. Mind you Nairobi, which is where the most slums are was being equated to a COVID-19 hotspot. On the other hand, Slums are breeding grounds for infectious diseases, fresh running water is unavailable and self-quarantine is more like a far-fetched idea, considering up to 8 members share tiny shacks, if we are to take Kibera as an example. Now, given that preventive measures against COVID-19 called for social distancing and sanitising on a regular, if this wasn’t dark humour I don’t know what qualifies.
  • 80% of Kenya’s workforce are informal labourers. With COVID-19 preventive measures taking precedence in the country, this meant that a huge population would soon be vulnerable, unemployed and their only hope being well-wishers. 

Social distancing in Africa

In short, CoVID-19 just heightened life dilemmas in ways we couldn’t possibly think of. Now to turn and posit the above as a blessing in disguise is sheer cruelty for lack of a better word.

Perhaps you might say that scientist are just exploring. But even in the best light, this exploration, is in bad taste. 

It is like saying if Africans are to escape death by Covid-19, most won’t by poverty. Remember two-thirds of India’s population lives in poverty and still, India has reported the worst situation only second to Brazil. 

Now, assuming we also entertained this idea, that poverty is the defense against Covid-19. Bear in mind, that a COVID-19 vaccine has yet to be announced and many parts of Africa have been accused of underreporting -Tanzania doesn’t even report at all. In the same light experts warn that given Africa is a vast and poorly connected it could be simply biding its time and the virus could strike hard in the coming months. We cannot ignore that upon flattening of the curve WHO doubted this claim. If we put all these into consideration, would poverty and living in crowded accommodation become the new lifestyle so to avoid the virus?

Like a joke, scientists tried to test samples with an aim to find out if people who lived in overcrowded areas and poorer communities (where viruses spread more effectively) could be enjoying a larger degree of immunity towards the Coronavirus.

I know you’re waiting to find out what happened.

Like another joke, the glorified chest freezer to be used malfunctioned and now we have to wait for the results, since the team went on a hunt for new samples. BBC says it may take time, but for now the mystery of Africa’s relatively mild pandemic lives on.

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