Dr. Dougbeh Nyan Postulates Herd Immunity in Parts of Africa

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Invited for second speaking engagement at Rowan University

By Jana-Astrid Schäfer and Fatoumata Njei 

One of Africa’s prominent infectious diseases experts from Liberia, Dr. Dougbeh Chris Nyan of Shufflex Biomed, has postulated that many African countries including Liberia could be “going through a stage of Herd Immunity at this point of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the continent.”

Lecturing at Rowan University, Dr. Nyan said,  “there may be a huge number of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 carriers within the highly youthful African populations that are transmitting the infection from person-to-person without visible clinical symptoms that require hospitalization, and this could confer some immunity in the population as a herd-protection. In addition, studies need to be using mass serological testing to determine Immunoglobulin G (IgG) levels in the blood and how long such immunity would last.”

Regarding asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers and transmission, recent research findings published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggest that 40-45% of COVID-19 cases may be asymptomatic, will remain in this SARS-CoV-2 infectious state, and might have greater potential to spread the infection silently and pervasively through the human populations.

A University of Berlin trained medical doctor, Dr. Nyan emphasized that “this asymptomatic transmission is coupled with Africa’s youthful population that appears to be less susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, as compared to the high percentage of older populations of Italy (for example with underlying conditions) that were apparently more susceptible and succumbed to COVID-19.”

Responding to questions from the faculty why Africa is not experiencing top death rate, Dr. Nyan said, “we don’t know exactly, because this virus is new; but, Africa has prior experiences dealing with other outbreaks such as Ebola, Cholera, Lassa, etc. and the lockdown helped control the spread.”

Dr. Nyan made the statement recently during his presentation to faculty and staff at the Rowan University Division of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics in New Jersey, the USA.

According to blogs.workdbank.com, in about 40 African countries, more than 50% of the population is under the age of 20 compared to that in about 30 selected richer countries where less than 20% of the population is under the age of 20.

Dr. Nyan added “other factors could be responsible for why Africa is not seeing lots of deaths as compared to Europe, America, Asia, and South America, and that needs to be studied” adding that “although in view of the severe challenges with testing in Africa, we may not know the actual number of infected persons as there could be more asymptomatic infected persons in Africa than is reported.”

According to him, the concept of ‘Herd Immunity’ is still being studied and appears controversial. “One quick clarification I would like to make is that I am not proposing ‘herd immunity’ for Liberia; instead, I only postulate that this may be occurring in Liberia and parts of Africa in view of the current epidemiological trend and factors which include: the silent asymptomatic person-to-person transmission of SARA-CoV-2 within a highly youthful Liberian and African population vis-à-vis the low death rate in Africa as compared to other continents.

“Now, the herd immunity concept is essentially explained within the context of vaccination and immunity. If a good number of the population is vaccinated or immune against a particular infection, that infectious pathogen cannot be easily transmitted through the population (e.g. Tuberculosis). The level of immunity created by the vaccination must stay above certain levels or threshold to confer lasting protection. Herd immunity occurs or ensues over time, it is not instant!

“In the case of COVID-19 which we are still studying, it is already scientifically established that there are silent asymptomatic carriers of the SARS-CoV-2 who may be pervasively transmitting the diseases through the populations (e.g. Liberian or African). These infected persons may have developed some level of natural immunity which levels we have to determine and study once we have enough serological (ELISA) testing kits now or in the future.

“We don’t want people to have a false sense of protection since we do not yet know the level of protection and the actual number of people in this category. This herd immunity is postulated to already be occurring in our population and is not necessarily a proposal for Liberia since we have not been properly enforcing nor adequately adhering to the health regulations put in place (unlike Sweden where the population have been adhering to the health regulations promulgated by its infections control institute). Hence, I do re-emphasize that in order to flatten our epi-curve (please see slide No. 16), we need to strictly adhere to the health regulations – that is, social-physical distancing, wearing of face mask, washing/sanitizing hands, stay-in-place, contact-tracing, isolation, and treatment,” Dr. Nyan said.

Asked whether the government of Liberia has given any stimulus package to the people, Dr. Nyan, an NIH-trained infectious diseases scientist said “as far as I know, the government of Liberia has not given the people any relief package to date. But, individuals, Diaspora organizations, and local business entities have been assisting the population with food and some basic necessities.”  He said that Rwanda, Ghana, Kenya, and few African governments provided relief packages for their citizens, while Dean Edem Tetteh added that in Togo government provided stimulus for the most needy sector of the population.

Meanwhile, at the end of the presentation, the Dean of the Science and Technology College, Dr. Edem Tetteh extended a second invitation to Dr. Nyan to lecture on the COVID-19 pandemic at the prominent Science-based US national university where he [Dr. Nyan] spoke on the COVID-19 Pandemic Response in Liberia and other African countries.

“We want you [Dr. Nyan] to come back, if you don’t mind, to speak to us again in a larger auditorium when most of the students are back on campus after the lockdown,” Dr. Tetteh, the Science Dean said, adding that the earlier presentation was very brilliant.

Rowan University is a public science research institution with a medical campus in Stratford, New Jersey, and medical and academic campuses in Camden, New Jersey. The University’s Rowan College at Burlington County Campus is located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. New Jersey was one of the high-hit States with the COVID-19 pandemic in the US that is now beginning to relax it regulations.

Dr. Nyan is the inventor of the US patented multiplex test for infectious diseases which detects and identifies Coronaviruses, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis virus, Ebola, Zika, Dengue and many more. He testified before the US Congress in September 2014 on the Ebola outbreak. He is the winner of the 2017 African Innovation Award Special Prize for Social Impact for his invention. During this COVID-19 Pandemic, Dr. Nyan has provided extensive pandemic response awareness to the population and expert advised on public health regulatory measures directly and via radio and television in African countries including Liberia.

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