A COVID-19 Spike in Burkina Faso?

I raised this question on Twitter the other day, because I continue to follow the COVID-19 numbers coming out of the Sahelien countries, and I’ve been struck by those out of Burkina Faso. (I mostly rely on the daily counts posted by the journalist Dieudonné Lankoande). After a period where new case counts were negligible, my impression was that numbers jumped a bit recently. Others weighed in to basically confirm that impression, with Louis Audet-Gosselin pointing to a recent pocked of cases discovered in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso’s second most populous city and its key economic hub (see here for more).

A quick glance at Google’s figures reinforces the sense that compared to many of its neighbors, and especially its two Sahelian neighbors Mali and Niger, Burkina Faso’s official confirmed case count is relatively high.

CountryReported COVID Case Sept. 8-21Total Country Population (2018)
Burkina Faso44419.8 million
Mali15419 million
Niger1122.4 million
Cote d’Ivoire61925 million
Ghana1,22729.8 million
Togo1817.9 million
Benin8111.5 million

What these numbers mean is above my pay grade. There has been a wide-ranging debate about what seems to be a markedly low case rate in Africa. The Washington Post‘s Karen Attiah weighed in eloquently on that debate recently, noting Western media’s superficial coverage of the issue: “It’s almost as if they are disappointed that Africans aren’t dying en masse and countries are not collapsing.” And I have gone back, several times, to George Kibala Bauer’s post at Africa Is A Country, in which he argues, in part, “COVID-19 is a powerful reminder that we must reclaim African reality in all its forms in order to adequately define and respond to the challenges we face and imagine African futures, which transcend the Western gaze.”

How should one explain, moreover, substantial variation not just within Africa but within a single region or sub-region? Population size seems to matter but obviously does not tell the whole story. Does the explanation for the variation involve a lack of testing in some countries – more sophisticated testing infrastructure in Ghana than in, say, Niger? Or are the levels of actual outbreak markedly different, due to population density and movement, or levels of precaution and preparedness, or some other factor?

Those questions operate at the country level, too: the clusters in Burkina in recent days appear to have been in Bobo-Dioulasso and in the capital Ouagadougou, but also (to a lesser extent) in the western town of Houndé (map) and the southern town of Gaoua (map). These two towns are much smaller than Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, with roughly 50,000 people in Houndé and over 30,000 in Gaoua, according to the outdated estimates found on Wikipedia. That there would be more testing capacity in the major cities makes sense, and that there would be some testing in other parts of the country also makes sense – but does this mean that there are no outbreaks, or simply no testing, in the conflict zones in the north and east? Or are there cases there, in small or large numbers, that are escaping detection? Figures for excess deaths, meanwhile, might help settle these questions, but are not easily accessible from what I can tell.

A COVID-19 spike would be bad news, obviously, for Burkina Faso, with the country and its neighbors having eased key restrictions in July and August, with elections approaching in November, and with mass violence continuing in parts of the north and east.

3 thoughts on “A COVID-19 Spike in Burkina Faso?

  1. With 1950 cases reported and 56 dead, covid is not a major problem in Burkina.
    The same can be said for all of Africa, with the exception of South Africa with 16000 dead.
    And possibly Egypt (6000) and Morocco (2000).
    For all other countries, infectious diseases other than covid are so common that covid disappears in the statistics. Same thing with flu – there is flu virus in Senegal and elsewhere, which they have discovered with testing, but it is a very minor health concern compared to malaria and other infections.
    Flu and corona are cold viruses, causing a problem in a temperate climate in Winter.
    Same as in the west, more cases reported may reflect a higher level of testing.

    Ivor Cummins is one of the few I have seen explaining the difference between flu/corona epidemics in temperate vs tropical regions.

    • Good points. I was struck more by the trend than by the absolute numbers, but you’re right that the latter are small. Thanks for posting the link.

  2. Pingback: Niger: Key Points from President Mahamadou Issoufou’s Recent Interview with France24 | Sahel Blog

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