South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria are the top Covid 19 exporters to other African countries, suggests a study on how the pandemic is unfolding in the continent.
“South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria appear as major sources of importations into other African countries,” suggest the study.
However, the authors caution this is likely to be influenced by these three countries having done the highest number of genome sequences in the region.
The report shows that while South Africa has the largest overall sequences Kenya has the highest coverage – defined as genomes per reported case – followed by Mayotte and Nigeria.
The study by 106 institutions from Africa, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East covered 33 countries in the continent as well as Mayotte and Reunion.
Contributors from Kenya include Wellcome Trust Research Programme and Pwani University both based Kilifi at the Coast.
The preprint posted on medRxiv online platform on 13th May 2021 acknowledges the early epidemics to Africa were mainly imported from Europe and Asia.
However, since then several variants of concern and interest such as the B.1 in Southern Africa and A. 23 in Eastern Africa have emerged and spread widely in the continent and overseas.
“Africa has also contributed to the international spread of the virus with at least 356 exportation events from Africa to the rest of the world detected in this dataset,” says the study.
The A. 23 variant was first detected in a Ugandan prison in Amuru in July 2020 from where it was transmitted to Kitgum Prison, possibly facilitated by the transfer of prisoners and then to Kampala.
From Kampala the variant with new mutations, the authors say has since travelled into neighbouring Rwanda and Kenya. It has since reached South Africa and Botswana in the south and Ghana in the west.
The transmission of these variants, and possibly others, across so many borders, the authors say indicates cross border lockdowns and restrictions may not be very effective control measures.
“In spite of limited sampling, Africa has identified many of the variants of concern (VOCs) and variants of interest (VOIs) that are being transmitted across the world.”
The key message from the study is the threat of easy transmissibility of new variants across neighbouring countries as well as overseas.
“The findings highlight that Africa must not be left behind in the global pandemic response, otherwise it could become a breeding ground for new variants.”
If the pandemic is not controlled in Africa, “we may see the production of vaccine escape variants that may profoundly affect the population in Africa and across the world.”
By Gatonye Gathura