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Viral Pandemics and African Population Dynamic Myths

Mbogo is a Editor and Researcher at Tv Africa, Uganda who has a Advanced Diploma in Politics and Government from the Open University UK.

Courtesy of Martin Sanchez

Courtesy of Martin Sanchez

There is a depressing view of Africa portrayed in the mainstream media, a view which is also shared by major international organisations such as the World Health Organisation. This is an Africa highly susceptible to and unprepared for disease outbreaks. Not a continent with an ever-growing population and capable health systems able to organise around such an emergency.

Its successful response to the coronavirus outbreak since 2019 came as a surprise to those expecting a major calamity. After the onslaught of a virus (HIV), which some claim was meant to cause the genocide of a continent, we will see that the statistics for the current pandemic are quite revealing.

Also, population demographics across the globe for some time have indicated an increasing decline in the rate of global population growth, with a number of aspects playing into this. Let's look at the general trend towards lower fertility, and whether viral disease is a determining factor, as well as Africa’s unforeseen future role in the world’s population dynamics.

The World's Declining Fertility Rates

People tend to take for granted the idea that a society will automatically replenish its population over time and continually produce enough bodies to fulfil societies needs. This is not the reality.

For example, according to demographic figures over recent years, Europe can no longer rely on a domestic workforce to maintain employee quotas. Fertility rates as low as 1.3 children (as seen in Malta) per mother-father couple is not sufficient to replace both parents when they die.

Fertility rates across the ‘developed’ world have fallen below the recommended replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman over her lifetime. The rest of the world—Africa, the Middle East, West Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean—has a replacement rate of between 2.8 to 4.6 children per family.

hillshire farm

hillshire farm

Demoting Family life

The United States approved the birth control pill in 1960 and Europe in 1961. This stimulated the move toward greater 'gender equality'—the newfound freedom associated with contraception enabled women to choose the number of children they had or whether to have children at all.

Being now under less ‘domestic restraint’ they concentrated on careers and ambitions as an alternative aspect in their lives.

Western European living in general has moved towards a more individualistic lifestyle. Thus, as marriage rates declined, and those who did marry did so at an older age, having a child or children became less of a priority.

This trend is increasingly encompassing those outside the western world. In spite of this, many people in the non-western world continue to prioritize having a family of several children.

This explains the "human choices" aspect of population growth rate decline, but what about the seemingly unforeseen events that can also slow down a population's rate of expansion?

Pandemic Deaths Over the Years

Let’s take a look at one ‘unforeseen’ factor: viral pandemics. Here are the main viral outbreaks since the 1960s and their subsequent effect on mortality dynamics:

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  • The Hong Kong flu of 1968-69 killed over a million people worldwide.
  • The Russian flu of 1977-79, which began in China, killed 700,000 across the globe.
  • The SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) flu arrived in 2002 but killed relatively few people (770). However, since it only infected approximately 8,098, its actual death rate was comparatively high at 10.5%.
  • Swine flu took the lives of 500,000, having spread widely throughout western Europe and Asia. It infected somewhere between 700 million to 1.4 billion people.
  • MERS-COV (Middle East respiratory syndrome, coronavirus) came two years later, originating in Saudi Arabia, spreading mainly across the Arabian Peninsula but also reached Europe and the United States. With a modest caseload of just 2,253, its death rate of 35% saw 850 deaths. Africa had only 6 deaths.
  • Ebola, with two recent outbreaks 2014-16 and 2018-20, is the virus with the highest death rate of up to 66%. The first of the two outbreaks in central Africa saw a caseload of 28,600 with 11,300 fatalities. In the later outbreak, 2,287 died from a caseload of 3,400.

SARS-CoV Resurgence

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome, coronavirus 2), also known as Covid-19, was declared a pandemic on the 11th of March 2020. It has been one of the most widespread of all pandemics in recent years. Affecting over 500 million people worldwide with over 6 million deaths. It came with lockdowns and health safety precautions not seen since the Spanish flu of 1918.

As usual, an overly high death toll of up to 3.3 million was predicted for Africa. However, to the disappointment of the doomsayers, actual mortalities stood at only 256,180 by August 2022.

Africa Disappoints the Covid Pessimists

Bewildered experts have posited hypotheses as to the reason for such a low contagion susceptibility. A report at (BMC) Medical Journal details research into the African resistance to Covid-19, based on the theory that exposure to earlier forms of the coronavirus family can build resistance to related viruses.

According to a paper at BMC medical journal, prior exposure to infectious diseases can provide the requisite antibodies and t-cells necessary for protection against new and similar viruses.

Tests in Kenya (up to 20%), Ghana (up to 27 %), and blood donors in Malawi (80%) indicate the presence of such coronavirus antibodies. This may have been the missing factor in World Heath Organisations’ early SARS-CoV-2 projections for Africa.

AIDS: The Dubious Outbreak

HIV AIDS was once a ubiquitous virus in Africa during the early 1980s. The official line that it spread from the African green monkey to humans is in doubt by many outside the mainstream narrative. There are suspicions that it could have been spread as a contaminant of the smallpox vaccine during the campaigns to eradicate smallpox between 1967-1977.

Growth Unhindered

Demographically the effects of HIV AIDS have spurred projections concerning Africa’s future population size. According to these calculations, Sub-Saharan Africa’s population would be 156 million people less than without the HIV pandemic by 2025. It was expected to reach 983 million by then.

However, these population figures have been surpassed by Sub-Saharan Africa’s current population size of 1.166 billion in 2022.

In addition to this, the onslaught of the HIV will not stop the continent from reaching a population of two billion by 2050—25% of the world’s population and almost 3.5 billion by the year 2100, occupying 40% of the world’s population.

In closing

So there we have it. Whilst we have seen a number of declared viral pandemics in the last half century, which have contributed to a slowing population growth rate, most have not drastically affected Africa’s demographics.

Nevertheless, apart from birth control and lifestyle changes, there are some demography influencing factors which were not included here, i.e., programs of forced sterilisation of certain communities, bacterial pandemics (cholera), wars and famine.

However, the HIV virus did have a high death toll for a while, but not one that was progressing toward genocide as first perceived.

Studies also show that constantly living with the exposure to milder viral diseases can be beneficial to a person’s bodily defences, if and when a wider more contagious outbreak does occur. The current SARS-CoV-2 activity proved this, and also shattered western preconceived ideas of what is supposed to happen when a pandemic reaches the African continent.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Mbogo Mulindwa

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