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Fact Check: Are Africans immune to Coronavirus?

By Sigomba Ramadhan And Grace Ng'ang'a | February 24th 2020 at 09:37:57 GMT +0300

Dr Mutala says one can be immune to disease either by vaccination or the ability of the body to fight it after infection. [Standard]

Despite several major scares, Africa is so far is free from the deadly virus called Covid-19 or commonly Coronavirus. 

More than 74,000 people have been infected by the virus and hundreds more in over 25 countries. Fatalities in China have so far exceeded  2,400 souls.

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Africa is at the moment free from the killer virus.

As a result, this has led to the spread of a misleading narrative that Africans, due to their genetic composition and skin can resist Covid-19.

This is after two people suspected to have contracted the virus were successfully treated in Egypt and a Cameroonian who was treated in China.  

On February 12, the World Health Organisation said the person confirmed to have the virus in the North African state “is no longer carrying the virus.”

The nationality of the person was however not confirmed. Egypt State TV said the affected person was a foreigner who had been put into isolation at the hospital.

“He will remain in quarantine until the full 14-day period is over and will be undergoing further required tests to ensure he was fully recovered,” WHO spokeswoman Inas Hamam said. 

Onto the 21-year-old Cameroonian who became the first African to contract the virus in China and the first African to recover, various reports indicated that he was treated with a cocktail of HIV drugs and antibiotics for about 13 days.

In two weeks, a CT scan showed he was free from the virus.

From the two accounts, does this mean Africans are immune to Coronavirus or can Covid-19 not survive in Africa?

We contacted geriatrics specialist Dr Stella Mutali who has been creating organisational awareness of the virus in Nairobi. She dispelled the claim as unfounded.

“The disease affects all people indiscriminately,” she said adding, “No, Africans are not immune to Coronavirus.”

Dr Mutali says one can be immune to disease either by vaccination or the ability of the body to fight it after infection.

The latter is referred to as acquired immunity.

“Some people with sickle cell disease tend to clear out malaria from their body faster than those without Sickle cell disease and it is therefore widely believed that those with Sickle cell disease are resistant to malaria,” she says.

Kem Senou Pavel Daryl, 21, is the first African to contract the virus in China and the first African to recover from it. [Courtesy of BBC]

Then how did the Cameroonian and the one in Egypt survive the deadly virus? Dr Mutali explores various possibilities that could have led to their cure which are far from the Africanism narrative.

“They may not have been severely ill. If they were critically ill, then they must have gotten the best of critical care that can be obtained to fight the disease,” she said.

Health agencies say the virus can be cured before the pneumonia stage at which medics say antibiotics are of no use. The two referred cases are not the first to undergo successful treatment.

The Cameroonian national had not reached the pneumonia stage since he had a dry cough, fever and flu-like symptoms.

“Not all cases of Covid-19 advanced to pneumonia or severe disease requiring critical care. The management of the infection is supportive, symptomatic treatment,” says Dr Mutali

Thousands of Covid-19 cases in China have been discharged after fully battling the killer virus.

Dr Mutali also says that duo might have survived because of age factor.

“Other advantages they may have had would be being immunocompetent while also not being predisposed due to extremes of age or complications due to preexisting illnesses,” she says.

in a  myth-buster  WHO says older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions are highly at risk of becoming severely ill from the virus.

This has been corroborated by a demographic of Covid-19 confirmed cases released by a data analysis site Worldometer. It observes that the risk of death increases with age.

For instance, those aged between 10  and 39 years old have just accounted  0.2 per cent of Coranavirus deaths while those aged 80 years old and above accounted for  14.8 per cent of the deaths.

The virus, however, can be carried by people of all ages.

We asked Dr Mutali about the claim that the virus cannot survive in Africa due to environmental factors.\

Her response was: “Hot humid conditions with little breeze or ventilation may be a risk factor.”

WHO said the virus can last on an object or surface for about 45 minutes. The survival of the virus outside the body, however, has not been linked to climatic conditions.

But Dr Mutali says: “The faster a pathogen outside the body dries up, the sooner it loses viability.”

We asked Dr Mutali whether three are diseases that are only prone to specific descents and she said Sickle cell anaemia which mostly affects Africans and malignant melanoma which affects Caucasians.


“Covid-19 can infect anyone,” says Dr Mutali.

Africans are not immune to Coronavirus. People who survived it did so due to medical factors and not because of their race.

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