True toll of coronavirus on sub-Saharan Africa may be obscured by tremendous variability in risk factors and surveillance

Written by
Morgan Kelly
Morgan Kelly, High Meadows Environmental Institute
Feb. 17, 2021

One early feature of reporting on the coronavirus pandemic was the perception that sub-Saharan Africa was largely being spared the skyrocketing infection and death rates that were disrupting nations around the world.

While still seemingly mild, the true toll of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, on the countries of sub-Saharan Africa may be obscured by a tremendous variability in risk factors combined with surveillance challenges, according to a study published in the journal Nature Medicine by an international team led by Princeton University researchers and supported by Princeton’s High Meadows Environmental Institute (HMEI).

Because precise projections for sub-Saharan African countries remain difficult given a lack of information on the prevalence of risk factors such as chronic diseases and access to healthcare, the researchers synthesized a wide range of information on risk factors and trends in infection for sub-Saharan Africa from Feb. 25 to Dec. 20, 2020.

The researchers then developed an interactive online tool for estimating the rates of severe coronavirus infections per country based on the impact of various risk factors, such as rates of chronic disease, the local population density of physicians, and the percentage of an urban population living in crowded housing.

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