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Mapping Risk Factors for the Spread of COVID-19 in Africa

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African countries face varying levels of risk that will require adapting a diversified set of response strategies to the coronavirus. The most vulnerable countries may not be those with the earliest onset.

Much remains unknown about the trajectory of the transmission of COVID-19 in Africa. Many fear that with its high levels of poverty, weak health systems, and crowded urban areas, the virus could be particularly devastating. Others hope that with its warmer climate, youthful population, and experience fighting infectious disease, that Africa will be able to avoid the worst of the pandemic. This analysis provides a review of relative risk factors associated with the novel coronavirus as a means of generating potential insights into the varied and at times overlapping levels of vulnerability faced by each African country.

Mapping Vulnerability by Risk Factor

Understanding the relative risks each country faces can better guide response efforts in both the introductory and subsequent stages as the pandemic evolves. Following are a series of maps graphically representing relative levels of vulnerability across the continent (scaled from 1 to 5, with 5 being greatest level of vulnerability).

  • As with every region of the world, the first cases of the coronavirus in Africa came from exposure to international contacts—travel, trade, tourism, or business.
  • African countries with the greatest level of international contact (such as Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa) were among the hardest hit in the early stage of this crisis.
  • While international exposure has been critical in the initial stage of the pandemic, now that the virus is on the continent, intra-continental and intra-national transmission vulnerabilities will take on increasingly greater importance.