Maputo — The highest levels of exposure so far discovered in Mozambique to the coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 respiratory disease are in the towns of Maxixe and Massinga, in the southern province of Inhambane, according to the latest epidemiological survey undertaken by the National Health Institute (INS).
Announcing the results of the survey on Wednesday, INS official Mussagy Mahomed said that 5.5 per cent of the sample tested in Maxixe showed that they had been in contact with the coronavirus. The figure for Massinga was even higher, at 7.4 per cent.
This survey, like earlier surveys held in other Mozambican cities, used a simple blood test. This does not show whether the person tested is currently infected with the coronavirus, but it does show whether there are coronavirus antibodies in his bloodstream, which is evidence that he has been in contact with the virus.
The survey, held from 26 November to 3 December, took a random sample of Maxixe and Massinga households, but also looked more closely at key professional groups, such as market sellers, transporters, health workers and the police.
The total sample size in Maxixe was 3,974, and in Massinga it was 1,577.
Exposure to the virus varied widely from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. In Manhala neighbourhood, 9.7 per cent of the sample had coronavirus antibodies in their blood, but in Dambo, on the outskirts of the city, the exposure rate was only 2.3 per cent. The average exposure rate across the entire city was 5.5 per cent.
The variation in exposure rates was even greater in Massinga, ranging from 15.7 per cent in Chilacua to 2.7 per cent in Malembane (one outlying neighbourhood, Kapa Kape, registered no cases of infection at all, but this was perhaps due to the small size of the sample).
In Maxixe, the age group most at risk are those aged between 15 and 34. Six per cent of this age groups was carrying the coronavirus antibodies in its bloodstream. The figure dropped to 5.6 per cent among those aged between 35 and 59, and to 4.4 per cent for those aged 60 and above. 5.4 per cent of children under the age of 15 were also carrying the antibodies.
In Massinga, young adults were also those most at risk with 10.5 per cent of those aged between 15 and 34 showing exposure to the coronavirus. For children the figure was 4.9 per cent, for those aged 35 to 59 it was 7.4 per cent, and for those aged 60 and above, it was 6.3 per cent.
The analysis by professional groups showed that the defence and security forces had the highest level of exposure – 9.2 per cent in Maxixe, and an alarming 18.1 per cent in Massinga.
For market sellers the exposure rates were 4.5 per cent in Maxixe, and 8.9 per cent in Massinga. For health workers the figures were only two per cent in Maxixe, but 6.1 per cent in Massinga.
These results come as a shock since relatively few cases of Covid-19 have been diagnosed in the two towns, or in Inhambane province as a whole. To date, 61 cases have been diagnosed in Maxixe and 54 in Massinga.
Those diagnoses were made using the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test, which shows whether a patient is currently infected with the coronavirus. It is very different from the rapid blood test, which shows whether an individual has the antibodies in his bloodstream and has therefore been exposed to the virus in the recent past.
The great majority of coronavirus cases in Mozambique are asymptomatic. The people infected show no symptoms, and do not know they are carrying the virus, but they are perfectly capable of infecting others.
Mahomed concluded that there is general exposure to the coronavirus in both Maxixe and Massinga. Transmission of the coronavirus “is scattered and occurs in all neighbourhoods”, he said, with the defence and security forces the most exposed professional group
The INS has now held epidemiological surveys in 13 Mozambican cities and towns, and the prevalence of coronavirus antibodies in the random samples of the communities in those areas was as follows:
Massinga 7.4 per cent
Maxixe 5.5 per cent
Chokwe 5.3 per cent
Beira 5.2 per cent
Nampula 5.0 per cent
Maputo 3.8 per cent
Xai-Xai 3.7 per cent
Matola 3.6 per cent
Pemba 2.5 per cent
Quelimane 2.5 per cent
Chimoio 1.4 per cent
Tete 0.7 per cent
Lichinga 0.7 per cent