This interesting piece from the New Security Beat has provided some analysis of the data we have from the Coronavirus and how the pandemic is affecting different age structures. We all know that the virus is much more likely to be lethal for elderly people and those with pre-existing co-morbidities (for example diabetes, underlying respiratory, cardiac or immune disorders) .
This can be seen in the estimates of the death rates recorded in New York City. Measured in deaths per million residents, those over the age of 75 are dying at a rate 74 to 76 times higher than those aged 18 to 44 years in the Big Apple.
This suggests that countries that are older (like much of Western Europe) will suffer proportionately more deaths than younger populations (like sub-Saharan Africa). While Italy’s population is 18 per cent under the age of 20 and 17 per cent over the age of 70, the respective figures for Niger are 60 per cent and 1.5 per cent. Perhaps then the vast majority of the Nigerien population will be unaffected by the virus if it spreads through the country. This is a comforting thought, because the pandemic has not yet hit much of Africa and there is a concern that many of these poorer countries will be unable to pay for strict lockdowns that many other countries have undergone in an attempt to control the virus.
But age isn’t the only factor in determining whether a country suffers badly from the virus. When countries are graphed by age and by urbanisation, the countries with the most death per million (Italy, Spain, USA, Russia, Belgium) are all clustered at the top right with a high median age and a very urbanised population. But at the same time, there are countries which are more urbanised and older with far lower death rates (Japan, South Korea and Singapore). These countries all tended to take more aggressive public health measures much earlier to deal with the virus.
So, even as we are hoping that the virus will not become widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, there are some features of those countries which are worrying. They generally have poor nutrition and sanitation, there are widespread serious respiratory ailments as well as cramped multi-generational living conditions and low capacity clinical facilities. These factors could all promote the disease’s spread and help to negate sub-Saharan Africa’s age-structural advantage.
On the other hand, most African governments are focussed on public health, rather than surgery and other expensive clinical procedures. For many years now, health ministries in the area have built up expertise and assembled protective equipment to combat other communicable diseases. Perhaps these measures, along with their younger populations, will ensure that sub-Saharan Africa will escape the worst ravages of the pandemic without the need for expensive lockdowns. Let us hope so.