Decoding the African COVID-19 Paradox: Why was Africa spared from the impact of COVID-19?

Contrary to widespread speculations of doom, Africa was surprisingly the least affected continent by COVID-19, exhibiting the lowest morbidity and mortality rates. This phenomenon has been termed “the African COVID-19 anomaly” (Oppong, 2021) or “the African COVID-19 paradox” (Osayomi et al., 2021). This causal geographic observation rapidly evolved into one of the mysteries of the pandemic, leading to several attempts at theorization, one of which was the controversial Poverty-as-a-Vaccine hypothesis. Inspired by a BBC opinion piece, its core argument was that endemic poverty in Africa conferred immunity against the virus. This claim was scientifically verified, revealing results that demonstrated a significant negative relationship between COVID-19 and poverty, confirming the hypothesis but with weak evidence. This, of course, emphasizes not only that poverty is not a resistance against COVID-19, but that there are other forces at play responsible for the anomaly. Beyond this point, the question remains: Why was Africa spared? This presentation further advances the inquiry with the following questions: What other possible explanations exist for Africa’s relatively low infection and death rates? In what ways did African countries exhibit resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic? How can this resilience be leveraged to address current health challenges on the continent and future health threats? Lastly, how can the lessons learned from the African COVID-19 Paradox inform global health policy and practice? In the end, this inquiry aims to offer a fresh and insightful perspective on the African COVID-19 paradox and the pandemic’s impact on Africa.

Dr Tolulope Osayomi is a lecturer in the Department of Geography at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and is an AfOx Visiting Fellow at the University of Oxford 2023-24. His research focuses on spatial epidemiology, global health, and the geography of pandemics. From 2020-2021, he led the Covid-19 Mapping Lab at the University of Ibadan’s Department of Geography.

The workshop will be chaired by Professor David Eyre (BDI) and Professor Erica Charters (MedHum).

This lunchtime workshop will be held online via Zoom; please register to attend.