Nigeria’s Virus Information Void

How bad is it?

The coronavirus should be having free rein in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. Many of its more than 200 million people live in crowded, squalid shantytowns where social distancing is virtually impossible. Less than 1% of the population have been fully vaccinated, and the wearing of face masks is the exception rather than the norm.

Official data show the country has had fewer than 184,000 confirmed infections so far, and 2,229 of those who’ve been diagnosed with the disease have died. That compares with almost 2.6 million cases and 77,993 fatalities in South Africa, which has just 60 million people—although its excess death figures show the true toll could be about three times higher.

Clearly the true extent of the devastation wrought by the pandemic remains unreported and undetected across much of the developing world. Nigeria’s testing facilities are woefully inadequate and its health-care system has long been over-stretched, meaning many of those who fall ill recover—or die—at home.

Covid-19 screening carried out on 2,300 graduate students who reported to centers nationwide last month for their annual national youth service gives some indication of the disease’s prevalence, with at least 109 of them testing positive.

Another study published in February that was based on blood samples collected from 10,000 residents of Lagos, Africa’s largest city with about 24 million people, showed that 23% had SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, indicating that they had contracted the disease.

Officials in the commercial hub sounded alarm bells last month that infections and deaths are increasing, with the test positivity rate approaching 9%. The University of Lagos has been closed for almost a month to curb infections.

So far there’s no indication on social media of a dramatic upsurge in Covid-19-related hospitalizations and deaths, and interviews with doctors and funeral parlor managers bear that out. Just how badly Nigeria has been affected may only become clearer as the disease runs its course and if, or when, more information becomes available.—Anthony Osae-Brown and Michael Cohen

Track the vaccines

Pandemic of the Unvaccinated

Israel was first to show that vaccines were bending the curve of Covid infections. Covid cases declined rapidly, and a similar pattern of vaccination and recovery repeated across dozens of other countries. This progress is under threat. New strains, led by the highly transmissible delta variant, have caused renewed outbreaks. It’s now a life-and-death contest between vaccine and virus. The vaccines remain effective at preventing hospitalization and death.