I haven’t forgotten the unexpected deaths of Friends David Zarembka & his wife Gladys Kamonya in Kenya, at the turn of March into April of 2021.
Now there’s a report that suggests that COVID deaths there are numerous, and the total is likely much higher than is suggested by the meager available statistics.
The New York Times on May 21, 2021 included this brief article:
When the pandemic began, global health officials feared that the vulnerabilities of Africa would lead to devastation. More than a year later, the rates of illness and death from Covid in Africa appear to be lower than in the rest of the world, upending scientists’ expectations.
But if the virus begins to spread more rapidly on the continent, as it has in other regions, new findings suggest that the death toll could worsen.
People in Africa who become critically ill from Covid-19 are more likely to die than patients in other parts of the world, according to a report published on Thursday in the medical journal The Lancet.
The report, based on data from 64 hospitals in 10 countries, is the first broad look at what happens to critically ill Covid patients in Africa, the authors say. The increased risk of death applies only to those who become severely ill.
Among 3,077 critically ill patients admitted to the African hospitals, 48.2 percent died within 30 days, compared with a global average of 31.5 percent, the Lancet study found.
The study was observational, meaning that the researchers followed the patients’ progress, but did not experiment with treatments.
For Africa as a whole, the death rate among severely ill Covid patients may be even higher than it was in the study, the researchers said, because much of their information came from relatively well-equipped hospitals, and 36 percent of those facilities were in South Africa and Egypt, which have better resources than many other African countries. In addition, the patients in the study, with an average age of 56, were younger than many other critically ill Covid patients, indicating that death rates outside the study could be higher.
Reliable data on a country’s deaths and their causes have been hard to come by. As the coronavirus pandemic swept across the world in 2020, it has became increasingly evident that in a majority of countries on the African continent, most deaths are never formally registered.
What does this lack of records mean? A January 2021 NY Times piece described it:
As the coronavirus pandemic swept across the world in 2020, it became increasingly evident that in the vast majority of countries on the African continent, most deaths are never formally registered. Reliable data on a country’s deaths and their causes are hard to come by, which means governments can miss emerging health threats — whether Ebola or the coronavirus — and often have to formulate health policy blindly.
Covid-19 is often said to have largely bypassed Africa. Some epidemiologists posit that its youthful population is less at risk; others that prior exposure to other coronaviruses give some protection. But like other diseases, its true toll here will probably never be known, partly because elevated mortality rates cannot be used as a measure, as they are elsewhere.
Stéphane Helleringer, a demographer who has worked on mortality in several African countries, said that on the African continent, “There are very, very few countries that even attempt an estimation of mortality based on death records.”
In 2017, only 10 percent of deaths were registered in Nigeria, by far Africa’s biggest country by population — down from 13.5 percent a decade before. In other African countries, like Niger, the percentage is even lower.
The United Nations Statistics Division collects vital statistics from around the world. In North and most of South America, Europe and Oceania, it says at least 90 percent of deaths are registered. In Asia, coverage is patchier.
But for most African countries, the United Nations has no death data at all.
Reasons for the higher death rates include a lack of resources such as surge capacity in intensive care units, equipment to measure patients’ oxygen levels, dialysis machines and so-called ECMO devices to pump oxygen into the bloodstream of patients whose lungs become so impaired that even a ventilator is not enough to keep them alive.
But there was also an apparent failure to use resources that were available, the authors of the study suggested. Proning — turning patients onto their stomachs to help them breathe — was underused, performed for only about a sixth of the patients who needed it.
The slow introduction of vaccines across the continent has underscored global problems of vaccine inequality. Just over 24 million vaccines have been administered in Africa, according to the Africa C.D.C., with just 1.42 percent of the population fully vaccinated. In the United States, about 126.6 million people are fully vaccinated and more than 60 percent of adults have received at least one shot. . . .
The January Times article concluded:
In the absence of data, experts can make wildly different claims.
“The mortality due to Covid in the African continent is not a major public issue,” said Dorian Job, the West Africa program manager for Doctors Without Borders. . . .
But at the other end of the spectrum, researchers have just declared that there was a huge, hidden outbreak in the capital of Sudan. In the absence of a good death registration system, they used a molecular and serological survey and an online one distributed on Facebook, where people reported their symptoms and whether they’d had a test. The researchers calculated that Covid-19 killed 16,000 more people than the 477 deaths confirmed by mid-November in Khartoum, which has a population roughly the size of Wisconsin’s.
Khartoum is only one city in a vast, diverse continent with a variety of approaches to fighting the pandemic. But several factors that the researchers cited for why the Covid-19 caseload might be vastly underreported — stigma, people unable to get tested, the fact that the threshold for reacting to any disease is high — are true in many African countries.
“Every time somebody says, ‘I’m so glad Africa has been spared,’ my toes just curl,” said Maysoon Dahab, an infectious disease epidemiologist at King’s College London who worked on the Khartoum study.
So, how many more Kenyan Quakers have died of COVID?
God only knows.