November 5, 2021

Oxford Study May Explain Why Fewer Africans Have Died From COVID-19

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A burial of a COVID-19 victim in Rwanda

Oxford University scientists have discovered a gene that doubles the risk of respiratory failure and death from COVID-19 and is more common among people of South Asian descent.

The findings are latest attempt at explaining why higher rates of hospitalisation and death may have been seen in certain communities and on the Indian subcontinent.

According to the Nature Genetics study by the scientists, 60 per cent of people of South Asian background – compared with 15 per cent of people of European ancestry and just 2 per cent of Afro-Caribbean descent – carry the high-risk gene called LZTFL1.

The researchers found that a higher-risk version of the gene most likely prevents the cells lining airways and the lungs from responding to the virus properly.

Since the pandemic erupted in late 2019, about 8.6million people have been infected on the African continent, according to Reuters database. Slightly above 219,000 have been killed by the virus, which has been mutating into different variants.

Compared to India, the virus nearly brought the country to its knees. To date, the country has recorded over 34.2m infections, with over 459,000 deaths so far as of Thursday.

With 78 million cases in the European region – which includes all 27 member states of the European Union and the United Kingdom, Russia, Turkey, several Central Asian nations, and Israel – its cumulative toll now exceeds that of South East Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean region, the Western Pacific, and Africa combined.

The region has also recorded over 1.5m deaths so far.

The WHO said yesterday that the current rate of COVID-19 transmission in Europe is of “grave concern” and the region could see another 500,000 deaths by early next year, according to the European head.

The WHO regional chief hospitalisation rates due to COVID-19 in the region more than doubled over the last week. If that trajectory continues, Europe could see another half a million more pandemic deaths by February, he warned.

In Rwanda, the infections, deaths and vaccinations are summarized daily in this chart below.

Back to the Oxford University research, the authors cautioned that the gene cannot be used as a sole explanation as many other factors, such as socioeconomic conditions, play a role. Despite a significant impact from the virus to people with Afro-Caribbean ancestry, only 2 per cent carry the higher-risk genotype.

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