African nations should use antibody tests to find out whether the slower spread and lower mortality rate of the new coronavirus on the continent is due to patchy data or a more resilient population. Polity reports that this is the message from former British prime minister Tony Blair who said that information would guide leaders in deciding whether to extend lockdowns or other restrictions that are damaging economies, exacerbating hunger and slowing the fight against other deadly diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/Aids.
This is far fewer than in many European nations but, the report says, low rates of testing and patchy reporting of deaths mean outbreaks of the virus may be undetected in many countries. Africa also has a much younger population than Europe – the median age is just under 20 years – and most COVID-19 fatalities are among the elderly. It's possible, though it remains unclear, that Africa will be hit less severely and measures to contain the disease could be doing more harm than good.
"The biggest risk Africa has is the cure turns out to be worse than the disease," Blair is quoted as saying on the day the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, a policy think tank, launched a report about COVID-19 in Africa.
Blair said antibody tests – although of variable accuracy at the individual level – were invaluable to policymakers grappling with tough choices. "Antibody tests … shows what percentage of the population has likely been affected," Blair is quoted as saying.Full Polity report