By the Numbers: A Layman’s View of Statistics Reporting on the Spread of COVID-19 Throughout Africa and the World
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.
Most people infected with the coronavirus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. The elderly and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, cancer treatment or a compromised immune system are more likely to develop serious illness.
The first thing to bear in mind is that numbers alone do not tell the full story. Numbers and statistics are meant to be used as tools, to inform. They assist government officials and healthcare workers in tracking the advance of the virus (and its hopeful, eventual containment) so that they might disseminate information and dispatch supplies and caregivers tailored to the specific needs of a region. As is the case with many global concerns, a one-size-fits-all solution is not applicable with the approach needed to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Incidence Rate – tracks the number of confirmed cases, compiled daily from around the globe. An increase in the availability of test sites and test kits will result in a temporary spike in the number of reported cases. This should not be cause for alarm. It is an indication that the healthcare system is gearing up to respond to the recognized threat and are working to slow advance of the virus.
Cumulative Rate – reflects the total number of cases compiled to date, also recorded on a daily basis. The goal of instituting testing and preventative measures like isolation and social distancing is to flatten the curve, in other words to slow the rate of infection to keep from overwhelming the healthcare system in a given region. The number of reported cases will spike as testing ramps up but will trail off eventually as healthcare officials get the disease under control resulting in a bell-shape or hilltop curve, characterized by an initial (potentially sharp) incline followed by a gradual decline until there are no reported cases over a sustained period. The corresponding cumulative curve will flatten out once the decline in reported cases is achieved.
Death Rate – tallies the number of confirmed cases that have resulted in patient death. Several COVID-19 related deaths have been reported around the globe. A low death rate might be attributed to the pace with which a region responds to the threat and the extent to which they have equipped their medical facilities in advance. Resources are scarce. As of this writing, there is no proven treatment for the disease. Prevention and individual diligence are our greatest weapons in slowing advance of the disease.
Normalized Statistics – normalization is used to scale sets of results to facilitate side-by-side comparison between regions exhibiting vastly different incidence rates or cumulative reports. The trends seen in any individual curve remain true though their absolute values are adjusted so that they can be presented on a common scale.
Incidence Rates – African Nations
Confirmed reports of the coronavirus from Africa began in mid-February with a steady incline into and through the month of March. To date, two-thirds of the reporting African Nations have seen at least one confirmed case of coronavirus. Those nations reporting the highest incidence rates are highlighted below.
Note the spike in confirmed cases occurring in mid-March, presumably reflecting efforts across the region to ramp up testing for the virus. This by-and-large bodes well, confirming that efforts are underway to get a handle on advance of the epidemic.
The overall picture across the region reflects a mix of high incidence reporting by some nations to virtually none in others. Equally important is the disproportionate number of reported deaths, in Algeria and Morocco for instance.
While a handful of nations still have no confirmed cases, it does not mean those regions are in the clear. Ongoing testing is imperative, as is continued preventative measures taken down to the individual.
Incidence Rates – Worldwide
While it is important to focus on the specific needs of a given region, it is instructive to examine the trends observed across the globe. China followed by South Korea were the first nations to report an outbreak. They are also the first to have seen their incidence rates curtail (see the blue and red hilltop curves in the plot below) suggesting that advance of the disease is under control in those regions.
The cumulative results provide further evidence of advance of the virus slowing in those regions (note the plateaus in the corresponding blue and red cumulative curves below). Meanwhile, the rest of the world is still experiencing a steady incline in confirmed cases.
Finally, let’s examine how Africa stacks up against the rest of the world in a tally of incidence and death rates reported to date. The world has seen death rates at or below one death for every one-hundred confirmed positive tests for the virus, in places like Germany (0.67%) and South Korea (1.52%), to numbers exceeding ten deaths for every one-hundred confirmed positive tests, as high as 10.56% in Italy. These death rates, while small in comparison to the overall populations in those countries, underline how dire a circumstance the world is facing.
The numbers overall are relatively small as reported throughout Africa as opposed to the rest of the world. This may simply reflect that those nations are in the early stages of combatting the virus. It is also a sign of hope. Armed with needed information, African Nations might take a proactive stance in stemming advance of coronavirus and will hopefully follow China and South Korea toward successful containment.
Recommended Course of Action
The best way to prevent and slow down transmission is to be well informed about the virus, the COVID-19 disease it causes and how it spreads. Protect yourself and others from infection by washing your hands or using an alcohol-based rub frequently and not touching your face.
The coronavirus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so it’s important that you also practice respiratory etiquette (for example, by coughing into a flexed elbow also known as a vampire sneeze).
At this time, there are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. However, there are many ongoing clinical trials evaluating potential treatments. WHO will continue to provide updated information as soon as clinical findings become available.
The CDC has recommended the following course of action to slow the spread of the virus: test, trace contacts, isolate. The best way to reduce the spread of the disease is to behave as though you have already been infected and avoid contact beyond your immediate family. STAY HOME. If infected, isolate yourself further, including from your immediate family.
It is in everyone’s best interest to be transparent. Assessing the rate of infection and reporting the numbers is the best way to direct treatment and to track modes of transmission, either through community contact or imported from other regions of the world. A lack of transparency and unwillingness to face the numbers could have disastrous consequences.
JEDAH MAYBERRY was raised in southeastern CT, the backdrop for his fiction debut. The Unheralded King of Preston Plains Middle won Grand Prize in Red City Review's 2015 Book Awards and was named 1st in Multi-Cultural Fiction for 2014 by the Texas Association of Authors. A second book, Sun Is Sky, is due for publication in spring 2020. He is also at work on a sci-fi series featuring a young dark-skinned girl tasked with saving the planet from mankind’s self-destructive ways. In 2018, he completed a Hurston-Wright Foundation workshop in Fiction. His work has appeared at Loose Leaf Press, Flashing for Kicks, Linden Avenue, A Gathering Together, and Black Elephant. Jedah resides with his family in Austin, TX.