Connect with us

Data Stories

China In Africa: It’s a Numbers Game

Over the past two decades, China has grown into the undisputed champion of Africa’s infrastructure financing needs but as the popular adage goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Published

on

China In Africa: It’s a Numbers Game
Download PDFPrint Article

China’s growing global dominance got a publicity boost this April 2019 with the latest Forum on Belt and Road International ( BRI) Cooperation. The annual event brought world leaders from 37 countries, 5000 delegates from 150 nations and representatives of 90 international organisations to Beijing for the BRI conference that culminated in a resolution to continue strengthening ties and promoting global growth and economy through policy coordination among participating economies, infrastructure connectivity, trade investment and industrial cooperation

To Africa in particular, China has become a significant economic partner. China has catapulted from being a relatively small investor in the continent to becoming Africa’s largest economic partner, providing infrastructure and investment loans that have helped the continent record massive expansion of roads, rail and other utilities. Obviously, the forum is crucial in strengthening existing relationships and opening new opportunities for cooperation.


To date, it is difficult to understand the full extent of China’s blueprint in Africa due to the data knowledge gap that exists. This vacuum has fueled urban legends and sensational stories, everything from charges of neocolonialism, persistent yet unfounded rumor that Chinese firms use convict labor en masse, to even a Chinese settler colony in Africa. However, to dispel or confirm these narratives Africa must take a critical review, audit and examination of its principal relationship with China and what it portends for Chinese influence and footprint in the continent.

Trade

Since the turn of the 21st century, China has catapulted from being a relatively small investor in the continent to becoming Africa’s biggest economic partner. Africa-China trade increased from $13 billion in 2001 to $188 billion in 2015—an average annual growth rate of 21 percent. China has far surpassed Africa’s longstanding trade partners such as France, Germany, India, and the United States. According to a McKinsey and Company report dubbed Lions and Dragons in 2015, total goods trade between China and Africa amounted to $188 billion—more than triple that of India.


Statistics from the General Administration of Customs of China, in 2018, indicate that China’s total import and export volume with Africa was US$204.19 billion, a year-on-year increase of 19.7%, exceeding the overall growth rate of foreign trade in the same period by 7.1 percentage points. Among these, China’s exports to Africa were US$104.91 billion, up 10.8% and China’s imports from Africa were US$99.28 billion, up 30.8%; the surplus was US$5.63 billion, down 70.0% year on year. In December last year, China’s total imports and exports with Africa were US$18.27 billion, up 15.5% year on year and 2.1% month on month. Among these, China’s exports to Africa were US$9.55 billion, up 3.9% year on year and 3.0% month on month; China’s imports from Africa were US$8.72 billion, up 33.7% year on year and 2.2% month on month; the trade surplus was US$840 million, down 68.7% year on year and up 13.5% month on month. In 2018, the growth rate of China’s trade with Africa was the highest in the world.

China and Infrastructure

China has a long history of infrastructure investment in Africa, and this remains the country’s most visible legacy to this day. In the 1970s, China constructed the 1,710 km Tanzania-Zambia railway (Tan-Zam Railway completed in 1976), which linked landlocked, mineral-rich Zambia to the Indian Ocean. China’s aid for the project consisted of a nearly one billion interest-free loan, over one million tons of machinery and materials, and 50 thousand laborers to undertake construction efforts. Zambia’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda, hailed China’s support, and claimed the railway served as “a model for south-south cooperation.”


However, one of the megatrends of our times has been the growing presence of China in Africa’s infrastructure sector. Over the past two decades, China has helped to meet some of Africa’s infrastructure financing needs and is now the single largest financier of African infrastructure,financing one in five projects and constructing one in three mega projects.

Most funded projects are in the Transport, Shipping and Ports sectors (52.7 per cent), followed by Energy and Power (17.6 per cent), Real Estate (15 per cent, including industrial, commercial and residential real estate) and Energy and Power (13.1 per cent)

To date China has participated in over 200 African infrastructure projects. Chinese enterprises have completed and are building projects that are designed to upgrade about 30,000km of highways, 2,000km of railways, 85 million tonnes per year of port output capacity, more than nine million tonnes per day of clean water treatment capacity, about 20,000MW of power generation capacity, and more than 30,000km of transmission and transformation lines.

Foreign Direct Investment

China is poised to become Africa’s largest source of Foreign Direct investment. At the current growth rates, China will be Africa’s largest source of FDI stock within the next decade. China’s financial flows to Africa are around 15 percent larger than previous estimates. This discrepancy is found because official figures, which rely on banking-system data, do not cover informal money-transfer methods often used by smaller businesses. These methods include “mirror transfers,” in which a local payment is made into the Chinese account of an associate or family member, who in turn makes a local equivalent payment in Africa to the beneficiary’s bank account.

Aid

China is the second- or third-largest country donor to Africa Chinese official development assistance (ODA) and other official flows (OOF) to Africa together amounted to $6 billion in 2012. Chinese foreign aid expenditures increased steadily from 2003 to 2015, growing from USD 631 million in 2003 to nearly USD 3 billion in 2015. The United States promised somewhat more—$90 billion in the same period—but Chinese aid is more sought after. Unlike Western assistance, which comes mainly in the form of outright transfers of cash and material, Chinese assistance consists mostly of export credits and loans for infrastructure (often with little or no interest) that are fast, flexible, and largely without conditions. Thanks to such loans, the International Monetary Fund estimates that, as of 2012, China owned about 15 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s total external debt, up from only 2 percent in 2005. And McKinsey & Co. reckons that, as of 2015, Chinese loans accounted for about a third of new debt being taken on by African governments. 

Debt

Most of China’s loans to Africa go into infrastructure projects such as roads, railways and ports. China’s loan issuance to Africa has tripled since 2012. New debt issuance by Chinese institutions to African governments increased dramatically in the past five years, rising to some $5 billion to $6 billion of new loan issuances each year in the 2013–15 period. The McKinsey report suggests that in 2015, these loans accounted for approximately one-third of new sub-Saharan African government debt. Most of these loans are linked to infrastructure projects, such as China EXIM Bank’s $3.6 billion loan to finance the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway in Kenya. From 2000 to 2017, the Chinese government, banks and contractors extended US $143 billion in loans to African governments and their state-owned enterprises (SOEs).


In 2015, the China-Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at John Hopkins University identified 17 African countries with risky debt exposure to China, potentially unable to repay their loans. It says three of these – Djibouti, Republic of Congo ( Congo-Brazzaville) and Zambia – remain at risk of debt distress derived from these Chinese loans. In 2017, Zambia’s debt amounted to $8.7bn (£6.6bn) – $6.4bn (£4.9bn) of which is owed to China. For Djibouti, 77% of its debt is from Chinese lenders. Figures for the Republic of Congo are unclear, but CARI estimates debts to China to be in the region of $7bn (£5.3bn). Angola is the top recipient of Chinese loans, with $42.8 billion disbursed over 17 years. Yet, Chinese loans are currently not a major contributor to the debt burden in Africa; much of that is still owed to traditional lenders like the World Bank.

Business

According to the McKinsey report , there are about 10,000 Chinese-owned firms operating in Africa today. Around 90 percent of these firms are privately owned. State-owned enterprises (SOEs) tend to be particularly in specific sectors such as energy and infrastructure, the sheer multitude of private Chinese firms working toward their own profit motives make Chinese investment in Africa a more market-driven phenomenon than is commonly understood. Chinese firms operate across many sectors of the African economy. Nearly a third are involved in manufacturing, a quarter in services, and around a fifth in trade and in construction and real estate. In manufacturing, an estimated 12 percent of Africa’s industrial production—valued at some $500 billion a year in total—is already handled by Chinese firms. In infrastructure, Chinese firms’ dominance is even more pronounced, and they claim nearly 50 percent of Africa’s internationally contracted construction market.

One-third of Chinese firms based in Africa reported profit margins of more than 20 percent in 2015. They are also agile and quick to adapt to new opportunities and they are primarily focused on serving the needs of Africa’s fast-growing markets rather than on exports.

Agriculture

According to CARI China has acquired 252,901 hectares of land in Africa. Cameroon alone accounts for 41% of all lands actually acquired: driven by two large purchases of existing rubber plantations (over 40,000 hectares each) in 2008 and 2010.China has also established 14 agricultural centres across Africa.

China has also taken an increasingly hands-on role in its work and investment related to African agriculture, leasing and developing land and in many instances being accused of “grabbing” large swathes of it. But as Deborah Brautigam’s reports the assumptions about China’s role in Africa are often not borne out in reality and the areas of land “grabbed” for investment are small compared to the vast areas identified by some.

Security

Over the past decade China’s role in peace and security has also grown rapidly through arms sales, military cooperation and peacekeeping deployments in Africa. Today, China is making a growing effort to take a systematic, pan-African approach to security on the continent.

China is now the second-largest contributor to the peacekeeping budget. Chinese personnel have served on missions in Africa for decades, but until 2013 they were small contingents in unarmed roles such as medical and engineering support. China now provides more personnel than any other permanent member of the Security Council – they numbered 2,506 as of September. Chinese peacekeepers now serve in infantry, policing and other roles in Africa.

In 2017, China established a 36 hectare Djibouti military facility.with a ten-year lease at $20 million annually. It has been described as a support base for naval anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, peacekeeping in South Sudan and humanitarian and other cooperation in the Horn of Africa, but has also been used to conduct live-fire military exercises.

Labour and Population

The number of Chinese immigrants in Africa has risen sevenfold in under two decades, The Annual Report on Overseas Chinese Study said the African continent was home to more than 1.1 million Chinese immigrants in 2012, compared with less than 160,000 in 1996, adding that 90 percent of the current total arrived after 1970. Initially, most labourers coming to Africa were from retail industry but today with the closer relationships with Africa, Chinese intellectuals and skilled professionals have settled in Africa.

The number of chinese workers by the end of 2017 was 202,689. In 2017, the top 5 countries with Chinese workers are Algeria, Angola, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Zambia. These 5 countries accounted for 57% of all Chinese workers in Africa at the end of 2017; Algeria alone accounts for 30% of the numbers. These figures include Chinese workers sent to work on Chinese companies’ construction contracts in Africa (“workers on contracted projects”) and Chinese workers sent to work for non-Chinese companies in Africa (“workers doing labor services”); they are reported by Chinese contractors and do not include informal migrants such as traders and shopkeepers.

Media

There has been a significant increase of Chinese media on the African continent in recent years. This has taken place across various levels, including infrastructure development, training of journalists, production and distribution of media content, and investing directly in African media houses and platforms. The increased media footprint is widely seen as a way for China to extend its ‘soft power’ on the continent. But this is not the first time that China has established a media presence on the continent. As far back as the 1960s and 1970s, Chinese media was active in Africa.

However, since 2012, state-run media outlets have also pitched up in the continent, among them the Africa bureau of China Global Television Network (CGTN based in Nairobi) and China Daily Africa newspaper. China also takes African journalists to Beijing for training, while state-linked firms have made investments in local media outlets including buying a 20% stake in South Africa’s Independent News and Media firm (INMSA). The Beijing-based StarTimes Group has also become one of Africa’s most important media companies, increasingly influential in the booming pay-TV market. As it spread its foothold in Africa, the company has embarked on a project to provide solar-powered satellite television sets to 10,000 villages across Africa.

*****

China has not “taken over Africa”; she has merely joined with earlier groups of imperialists in grabbing a part of the African bounty. As a newcomer, her presence is more visible, but not yet as substantially deep-rooted as the long-standing European imprint.

She comes with two key differences: first, China does not yet have the military and diplomatic capacity to replace any of those Western powers in physically securing and enforcing the various trade routes and treaties needed to keep the global trade machine, upon which they all depend, running. Second, therefore, this venture cannot be implemented remotely, but by human displacement. Even a settler-overlord project may not work. What could work is one where millions of Chinese people are steadily shipped over to “yellow” Africa as a continuation of the anti-black ethnic cleansing and encroachment the Asians began centuries ago in South Asia.

The Africa of the ordinary people must therefore assert itself and force its concerns on to all public agendas. The struggle now is to hold a public conversation independent of these various imperialists and their allies.

Sources: McKinsey and Company report. Compiled by Mdogo.

Avatar
By

The author is an analyst based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Data Stories

Young, Gifted and…Pregnant

The month of May is dedicated to preventing and ending teenage pregnancies worldwide. But as the month comes to an end, Kenya is still not close to achieving this goal.

Published

on

Photo: Unsplash/Michael Anfang
Download PDFPrint Article

One in every five Kenyan girls aged between 15-19 has had a live birth or is pregnant. It’s a mind-blowing statistic that speaks to the teenage pregnancy crisis in the country – the United Nations Population Fund estimates that there were about 380,000 cases in 2019 alone. Eighteen-year-old Patricia* (not her real name) was referred to me for legal advice, as she had one such pregnancy. Orphaned at an early age, her paternal uncle took her in but sexually abused her for several years. Today Patricia is 5 months pregnant and not in school, even though this should have been her final year. And while her uncle should be charged under the Sexual Offences Act – facing not less than 15 years in prison if convicted – Patricia will not testify against him for fear of losing the only financial support she has.

The month of May is dedicated to preventing and ending teenage pregnancies worldwide. But as the month comes to an end, Kenya is still not close to achieving this goal. Patricia is one of thousands of girls in Kenya stuck in a predicament caused by sexual violence, lack of information on, and access to youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health. For these girls, their education will be interrupted and their social and economic choices taken away from them.

Teen Pregancy Infographic.png

But there are also increased health risks associated with teenage pregnancies, including physical health issues like convulsions, uterine infections and obstetric fistula – a hole in the birth canal, resulting in incontinence of urine or faeces that often affects women who give birth too young – and mental health challenges like depression and anxiety. And there are risks to the unborn child including premature birth, low birth weight and other neonatal conditions. Preventing teenage pregnancies is about protecting the holistic health of both the mother and the potential unborn child, and by extension, society as a whole.

The Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014 reported a 2% drop in teenage pregnancies over a 20-year period. This was caused by major changes in girl’s education programmes and in the sexual and reproductive health and rights landscape in Kenya that made birth control and other services more accessible to teenage girls. Yet in 2014, the Kenyan Parliament shot down the Reproductive Health Care Bill sponsored by Senator Judith Sijeny, which suggested among other things, that adolescents be given unrestricted access to comprehensive sexual education and confidential sexual and reproductive health services. There was uproar around the bill, with Kenyans citing religious and cultural beliefs to reject it. But the facts betray this opposition: the same survey (KDHS) shows that about 11% of teenagers, nationwide are having sex before their 15th birthday. Kenya’s teenagers need better access to sexual and reproductive health services.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. In 2013, Kenya signed the Ministerial Commitment on Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Sexual and Reproductive Health Services for Adolescents and Young People in Eastern and Southern Africa. In 2015, the Ministry of Health enacted the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy that aims to enhance the sexual and reproductive health status of adolescents in Kenya and contribute towards realization of their full potential in national development. Additionally, two months ago in March, Kenya through the National Council on Population Development (NCPD), launched the first-ever government-led multi-stakeholder campaign against teenage pregnancy dubbed ‘Let’s Act to End Teenage Pregnancy’.

But sex education is still not being uniformly delivered across the country. Teachers are not all adequately trained and can often pass misinformation onto the students. An African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) study found that 1 in 4 secondary school students in Homa Bay, Mombasa and Nairobi counties thinks that using a condom during sexual activity is a sign of mistrust. The content of the curriculum is also heavily focused on content covering abstinence and sexually transmitted infections, ignoring other important topics like contraceptive use and access to safe abortion. Furthermore, a new Reproductive Health Care Bill (2019) threatens to negate the gains made on adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights as it requires health providers to seek parental consent before providing adolescents with sexual and reproductive health services. Requiring parental consent is likely to result in an increase in unintended teenage pregnancy and unsafe abortions because teenagers may not want their parents to know about their sexual activities.

Ending teenage pregnancies will take a concerted effort of policy mixes. The judiciary must strictly implement the Sexual Offences Act. The legislature must review the issue of bride price, particularly, where teenage girls are concerned to de-incentives teenage marriages. Increased girls educational programs and opportunities created. Teachers must receive adequate training on comprehensive sexuality education. A wide range of sexual and reproductive health topics should be taught in the classroom but also parents and guardians must take the lead in providing their teenagers with correct and age appropriate information on sex. Lastly, the legislature must urgently amend Section 33(a) of the proposed reproductive health care law, to enable teenagers freely access quality, youth friendly sexual and reproductive health services. It’s time to bring down Kenya’s startling teenage pregnancy statistics.

Continue Reading

Data Stories

Modelling the COVID-19 Pandemic in East Africa

Using mathematical modelling to track and predict the progress of the coronavirus outbreak.

Published

on

Modelling the COVID-19 Pandemic in East Africa
Download PDFPrint Article

Mathematical models allow us to extrapolate from information currently available about the state and progress of an outbreak, to predict future cases. In this article, we illustrate how, using mathematical models, the COVID-19 outbreak can be modelled mathematically to help prepare for the worst-case scenario and to develop a vaccination policy.

As can be seen from Figure 1, it is clear that the outbreak of COVID-19 in East Africa is taking a similar shape to that of China, USA and other European countries. The infections in China seem to have flattened by the last week of February 2020. East African countries seem to be at different phases of the disease outbreak. Kenya has the highest number of reported cases so far. This could be attributed to the relatively higher number of tests Kenya is carrying out compared to other East African countries. The United States has over 800,000 confirmed cases so far. The time it will take for the infections to significantly slowdown is of much interest to all the stakeholders.

Figure 1: COVID-19 Cumulative confirmed cases in East Africa, Europe, USA and China between 22/01/2020 and 21/04/2020. Data Source: Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (JHU CSSE)

Daily Confirmed Cases

The daily confirmed cases in East Africa, China, USA and some selected countries in Europe are given in Figure 2. It is clear that the confirmed cases in East Africa are still very low compared to Europe, the US and China. This could be attributed to the relatively fewer tests in East Africa. However, Tanzania has reported the highest daily confirmed cases (84) followed by Kenya (29). Daily confirmed cases in China, UK, Italy, France, and Germany are declining while they are increasing in Russia. The trend is quite unstable in USA.

Figure 2: COVID-19 Daily confirmed cases in East Africa, Europe, USA and China between 22/01/2020 and 21/04/2020. Data Source: Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (JHU CSSE)

Daily Confirmed Cases Curve in Europe, USA and China

As can be seen from Figure 3, the infections in China, Italy, France, Germany and Spain are in the decline. On the other hand, the daily infections in the US and Russia are yet to start declining.

Figure 3: Daily confirmed cases in China and some selected countries in Europe
Data Source: Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (JHU CSSE)

Considering that the follow-up in China started on 2 December 2019 while in all other countries in the world it started on 22 January 2020, Figure 4 shows the time it took China, Italy, France, Germany and Spain to experience a downward trend in daily infections.

Figure 4: Time taken to experience a downward trend in the Infections in Chinam Italy, France, Germany and Spain
Data Source: Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (JHU CSSE)

These countries took 67 days, on average, to experience a downward trend in daily infections. Considering the health facilities in these countries and the time they took to implement a total lockdown, 67 days seems to be the earliest time a country can take to experience a downward trend in COVID–19 infections taking into account the measures taken by these countries such as testing, lockdown, social distancing, surveillance and contact tracing. 140 days (about 5 months) is the minimum time any country will take to return to normalcy in terms of COVID-19.

Daily Confirmed and Recovered Cases

Figure 5 gives the daily confirmed and recovered cases in China and Kenya. It is clear that the number of recovered cases in Kenya is currently lower than the number of daily infections. The daily infections in Kenya seem to be increasing despite the country having experienced a decline around the second week of April 2020. This could be attributed to the increased number of daily tests. The recoveries in China had overshot the infections by the first week of March 2020.

Figure 5: Daily Confirmed and Recovered Cases in Kenya and China
Data Source: Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (JHU CSSE)

Daily Recovered and Dead Cases in East Africa

Figure 6 gives the percentage of recovered and dead cases in East Africa. Burundi has reported the highest percentage deaths (20 per cent). South Sudan has not recorded any recoveries or deaths so far despite reporting four confirmed cases so far. Uganda and Rwanda have not reported any deaths so far. The percentage of recoveries in the two countries (Uganda and Rwanda) are the highest so far in East Africa. The percentage recovered is a key parameter in modelling of infectious diseases. Every country in the world will have its own recovery rate based on such factors as status of health facilities and mean age at infection.

Figure 6: Percentage Recovered and Dead Cases in East Africa
Data Source: Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (JHU CSSE)

African Countries with the Highest Number of Confirmed Cases

As can be seen in Figure 7, Egypt, South Africa and Morocco have over 3,000 confirmed cases while Algeria has slightly over 2,500 cases. Ghana and Cameroon have slightly over 1,000 confirmed cases so far.

Figure 7: African Countries with the highest confirmed cases
Data Source: Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (JHU CSSE)

Recoveries and Deaths in African Countries with the highest number of Confirmed Cases

As can be seen in Figure 8, Algeria has the highest recovery and death rates amongst the six countries. Furthermore, among the six African countries, only Algeria has a death rate higher than 10%. Ghana has the lowest death rate of the six African countries while having the highest number of confirmed cases.

Figure 8: Cumulative Recovered and Dead cases in some selected countries in Africa
Data Source: Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (JHU CSSE)

Recoveries and Deaths in some selected countries outside Africa

Figure 9 gives the percentage of recoveries and deaths in China, the US and some selected countries in Europe. Surprisingly, recoveries in the UK are very low compared to other major economies in Europe. Also, the number of deaths in the UK are greater than the recoveries. This could be pointing to a strained National Health System (NHS). The recoveries are highest in China (92.6 per cent), an indication of the expected recovery rate in a well-developed country which took the necessary steps early enough. Similarly, a death rate of 5.5 per cent in China points to the expected long-term death rate in a well-developed country which took the necessary steps early enough.

Figure 9: Percentage recoveries and deaths in some selected countries outside Africa
Data Source: Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (JHU CSSE)

Prediction of Infection in Kenya

The transmissibility of COVID-19 was assessed through the estimation of the reproduction number R, defined as the number of expected secondary cases per infected case. In the early stages of an outbreak, and assuming no immunity in the population, this quantity is also the basic reproduction number R0, i.e. R in a fully susceptible population.

Figure 10 gives the estimated reproduction number of 1.241. This estimate is derived from the available daily COVID-19 incidences in Kenya so far. A serial interval distribution with a mean of 7.5 days and a standard deviation of 3.4 days was used, similar to the COVID-19 Wuhan characteristics.

Figure 10: Reproduction Number
Data Source: Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering (JHU CSSE)

Predicted Infections in Kenya for the next 5 days

Figure 11 gives the projected incidences in Kenya for the next five (5) days. For the country to experience a reduction in infections, measures must be taken to reduce the reproduction number by continuing to stress on social distancing, hand washing, etc. Infections can be minimised by implementing targeted total lockdown.

Figure 11: Predicted Infections in Kenya for the next 5 days
Source: Author

Table 1 shows the projected daily infections from 22/04/2020 to 26/04/2020. The upper limits can be taken as the worst-case scenario for the given transmission rate of 1.2 for about 600 daily tests for COVID-19 in Kenya. A similar analysis can be done for any other country whose daily incidences are available.

Table 1: Projected Infections in Kenya

 

       Date

 

Prediction

               95% Confidence Interval
Lower Limit Upper Limit
22/04/2020 12 5 20
23/04/2020 12 6 20
24/04/2020 13 6 21
25/04/2020 13 7 22
26/04/2020 14 7 23

 

Continue Reading

Data Stories

Why China? A Look at Viral Outbreaks That, Like COVID-19, Originate From the East

Published

on

Why China? A Look at Viral Outbreaks That, Like COVID-19, Originate From the East
Download PDFPrint Article

China, officially the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia and is the most populous country in the world, with a population of around 1.4 billion people. It is also one of the world’s first civilizations.

With over 34,687 species of animals and plants, China is the third-most biodiverse country in the world after Brazil and Colombia. It is home to at least 551 species of mammals, 1221 species of birds and 424 species of reptiles and 333 species of amphibians; most of which are consumed as food.

On December 31 last year, Chinese authorities alerted the World Health Organization, WHO, of an outbreak of a novel strain of coronavirus causing severe illness. It was subsequently named SARS-CoV-2 and is now known as the causative agent of COVID-19. The origin of the virus was the city of Wuhan in China.

The disease, that has flu-like symptoms, has so far infected over 2 million people and caused over 140,000 deaths across 209 countries around the world. The effects it has left in its trail have caused different countries to take extreme measures in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

This is, however, not the first time China has been the origin of a viral outbreak.

Infographic: AFP

Asian Flu

In February 1957, the Asian flu (H2N2) virus emerged in East Asia, triggering a pandemic. It was later traced back to China with a stop in Singapore. It then spread to Hong Kong and to coastal cities in the United States in the summer of 1957.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, the number of deaths caused by the virus stands at 1.1 million people worldwide including 116,000 in the US. A vaccine was developed and the flu tapered off in 1958.

Though the cause is still not known, some authors believe the virus originated from a mutation in wild bucks combining with a pre-existing human strain. The strain later evolved, causing a milder pandemic between 1968-69.

The Asian flu was characterized by symptoms similar to many other strains of influenza, including fever, body aches, chills, cough, weakness, and loss of appetite. It is a respiratory illness, so a dry cough, sore throat, and difficulty breathing are all widely reported among flu sufferers. Other complications include pneumonia, seizures and heart failure.

Hong Kong Flu

The Hong Kong flu (H3N2) outbreak occurred in Hong Kong, China, between 1968-1969, killing an estimated 1 million people globally. It is said to have evolved from the H2N2 strain of influenza that had caused the Asian Flu.

It occurred in two waves, and in most places, the second wave caused more deaths that the first. A vaccine was later developed against the virus but it became available only after the pandemic had peaked in many countries.

Infection caused upper respiratory symptoms typical of influenza and produced symptoms of chills, fever and muscle pain and weakness. These symptoms usually persisted for between four and six days.

The H3N2 virus is still in circulation today and is considered to be a strain of seasonal influenza. In the 1990s, a closely related virus was isolated from pigs.

Bird Flu

In 1997, human infections with Bird flu (H7N9) were first reported in China. It is a zoonotic disease (one that passes from an animal or insect to a human), which infects humans after exposure to infected poultry or contaminated environments. Rare instances of person-to-person spread were been identified in China.

Since then, annual sporadic infections have been reported outside of Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao, but all the cases have occurred among people who had travelled to China before becoming ill.

The current risk to the general public’s health posed by the virus is low but exposure to infected poultry pauses the risk of it spreading to neighbouring countries. There have been 6 waves of the epidemic over the years with the last one being in 2017.

Early symptoms included fever, headache, coughing that produces sputum, muscle pain breathing problems and general malaise. In later stages, other symptoms include pneumonia, multi-organ dysfunction, septic shock and brain damage.

SARS

In 2002, a viral respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), was reported in Asia.  It is thought to be an animal virus from an as-yet-uncertain animal reservoir, perhaps bats, that spread to other animals (civet cats) and first infected humans in the Guangdong province of Southern China.

According to National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, NFID, coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that cause diseases in animals and humans. They often circulate among camels, cats, and bats, and can sometimes evolve and infect people. They are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface.

Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s. The CDC states that there are 7 coronaviruses that can infect people.

The SARS epidemic from China affected 26 countries and resulted in over 8000 infections in 2003. Some of the affected areas included Toronto in Canada, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China, Chinese Taipei, Singapore and Hanoi in Vietnam.

SARS also had influenza-like symptoms including fever, malaise, muscle pain, headache, diarrhoea, shivering, coughing (initially dry) and shortness of breathe. Severe cases often evolve rapidly, progressing to respiratory distress and requiring intensive care.

So Is China Fertile Ground For Future Pandemics?

Given the history above and the current situation the world is experiencing with the COVID-19 pandemic, what does China hold in terms of future outbreaks?

Dr Eddy Okoth Odari, a senior lecturer and researcher of Medical Virology in the Department of Medical Microbiology at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), points out several factors.

“Potential for a pandemic would depend on various socio-economic and geopolitical factors attributed to a country or region. Most pandemics that have emanated from China have been viral in nature and have occurred as a result of such viruses crossing species from animals to humans. Viruses’ crossing from animals to humans is not a strange phenomenon. However, we have to appreciate that most of these viruses, which eventually end up in pandemics, have been traced to the “Wildlife Markets” (wet markets) in Southern China. The activity of trading in wildlife is unique to that region. China being an economic hub where a lot of businesses take place, many people travel to and out of China and therefore I would imagine that any outbreak occurring in China would easily and quickly spread to other regions compared to if such an outbreak would occur for example in an African country.”

In late January, China imposed a ban on trade and consumption of wildlife meat acquired through illegal trading activities, as cases of COVID-19 surged in Wuhan. The city of Shenzen went a step further to extend the ban on cats and dogs. This new law will be enforced on 1st May.

There have been 81,802 cases, 3,333 deaths and 77,279 recoveries since the outbreak (see our tracker for the most up to date numbers), numbers whose veracity continues to be heavily criticized after Chinese authorities reportedly suppressed the news of the outbreak when it first began.

However, for the first time since January, Wuhan reported no new deaths on April 7, joining the rest of China, which has reportedly seen no deaths since March – even though questions have been raised about the veracity of China’s claims. This sharp decline has been attributed to aggressive testing, quarantines and social distancing. Authorities have begun to ease restrictions on lockdowns though still taking precautions to fully resume normalcy in the country.

As to what the future of pandemics holds, Dr Okoth says it is not that easy to tell.

“It may not be possible to predict where a future pandemic may come from, but it is worth assessing such socio-economic and geopolitical factors when trying to generate a model to predict future pandemics.”

He, however, has a warning for African countries.

“Although so far tropical Africa is not recording very high cases as compared to the temperate regions, seasonal variations may work against us. For example, the cold season starting in June through to the end of July (in the case of Kenya) and other southern African countries may make these regions become the epicentres of infections (if not controlled in time) in the coming months.”

This article was originally published by Africa Uncensored. Graphics by Clement Kumalija.

Continue Reading

Trending