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Is Covid Sparing Africans? The Mystery Matters.

Is Covid Sparing Africans? The Mystery Matters.

Stephanie Nolen ?? Reporting from Sierra Leone

Is Covid Sparing Africans? The Mystery Matters.

Stephanie Nolen ?? Reporting from Sierra Leone

Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

On a recent reporting trip to Sierra Leone, I came across a crowded soccer match, a rock concert and a huge wedding. No one had a mask on. But I didn’t find any Covid cases at the hospital. People said, there’s no Covid here.

Really? Here’s a closer look ->

Is Covid Sparing Africans? The Mystery Matters.

Stephanie Nolen ?? Reporting from Sierra Leone

When I started asking, I heard a lot of theories about why, rather than the disaster feared early on, Covid has caused relatively few deaths, especially in West and Central Africa:

Is heavy exposure to malaria somehow protecting people?

Have they been exposed to so many other pathogens (typhoid, Ebola, Lassa fever, tuberculosis) that their immunity is hypercharged?

Is it that sub-Saharan Africa has a young population, which lives mostly outdoors?

Is Covid Sparing Africans? The Mystery Matters.

Stephanie Nolen ?? Reporting from Sierra Leone

Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

That last theory makes the most sense.

But wait. India has a young population, high temperatures and a lot of malaria in some regions. But there were more than 2 million Covid deaths in the Delta wave.

Is Covid Sparing Africans? The Mystery Matters.

Stephanie Nolen ?? Reporting from Sierra Leone

Then I learned that Sierra Leone — and other countries in the region — have had plenty of Covid exposure.

A study of blood samples found 78 percent of people have Covid antibodies (although few are vaccinated). The World Health Organization says it’s at least 65 percent across Africa.

But in many places (like here) there’s no testing, so no cases are counted. Maybe people are dying, but not counted?

Is Covid Sparing Africans? The Mystery Matters.

Stephanie Nolen ?? Reporting from Sierra Leone

Samantha Reinders for The New York Times

Only 1 in 25 deaths is reported to authorities here. Many sick people are never taken to the hospital.

We know that nearly 300,000 people have died of Covid in South Africa, which has good death registration.

Is Covid Sparing Africans? The Mystery Matters.

Stephanie Nolen ?? Reporting from Sierra Leone

South Africa has a Covid death rate comparable to the U.S. Some experts are sure people elsewhere in Africa are dying at the same rate.

Other scientists say there’s no way millions of deaths were missed.

The mystery demands urgent study — because if people aren’t dying here, the secret to why could be key to vaccines and treatments that could help everyone.

Read more about the coronavirus pandemic in Africa.

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