Tue | Sep 29, 2020

Africa begins continent-wide study of COVID-19 antibodies

Published:Thursday | August 13, 2020 | 9:21 AM
People wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus, sit on chairs whilst queuing to be screened and tested for COVID-19 in Eldorado Park outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, Monday, August 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — An Africa-wide study of antibodies to the coronavirus has begun, while evidence from a smaller study indicates that many more people have been infected than official numbers show, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

Experts are eager to know the real number of COVID-19 cases in Africa, as confirmed cases and deaths have been relatively low on the continent of 1.3 billion people.

Poor data collection, however, has complicated efforts.

But recent surveys in Mozambique found antibodies — proteins the body makes when an infection occurs — to the virus in 5% of households in the city of Nampula and 2.5% in the city of Pemba.

That’s while Mozambique has just 2,481 confirmed virus cases. Further studies are underway in the capital, Maputo, and the city of Quelimane.

 “What is important is far fewer people are coming down with the disease,” Africa CDC director John Nkengasong told reporters. “How many people are infected and asymptomatic on our continent? We don’t know that.”

Africa’s young population, with a median age of 19, has been called a possible factor.

The new continent-wide antibodies study will include all African countries, but the ones showing interest to start in the coming weeks are Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Nigeria and Morocco, Nkengasong said.

The African continent reached the milestone of 1 million confirmed cases last week, while global health experts have told The Associated Press the true number is estimated to be several times that. More than 24,000 deaths have been confirmed, and the case fatality rate is 2.2%.

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