Why has no Gamma variant (P.1) been reported in Africa despite being found in 72 nations in the Americas, Asia, Europe and Australia? 

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By Daniel R. Lucey MD, MPH, FIDSA

Every week the World Health Organization posts an epidemiological update that includes global maps (below) and nation-by-nation listing in Annex 1 (below) for each of their four variants of concern: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta.  Multiple nations in Africa have reported Alpha, Beta, and Delta variants. In contrast, no African nations are shown in this WHO weekly update as having reported the Gamma variant. 

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This observation is based on both these WHO global maps from this week (July 6) when 74 nations across both Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe reported Gamma, and on Annex 1 listing in alphabetical order approximately 188 nations and presence or absence of the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta variants of concern.   

Looking back at several weekly WHO updates from as early as April 11 (when 40 nations had already verified and reported Gamma, through May 25 (when 59 nations reported Gamma) and June 29 (when 72 nations reported Gamma), the global maps do not show any African nations with Gamma, nor do any of the nation-by-nation line listings.    

While sequencing to identify variants is (likely) insufficient in at least some nations in Africa as well as the Americas, Asia, and Europe, some of the earliest and best sequencing took place in some laboratories in Africa. 

 In addition, the Alpha, Beta, and Delta variants appear in multiple African nations on these WHO maps (see right-hand side of WHO figure below for Delta and left-hand side for Gamma) and nation-by-nation line listings.  

There is no reason to doubt the accuracy of this data reported by WHO. No immunologic, genetic, or virologic speculation as to the cause seems immediately evident.  

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Dr. Daniel Lucey

Daniel Lucey, M.D. MPH, FIDSA, FACP, is a Clinical Professor of Medicine at Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine, Infectious Disease adjunct Professor at Georgetown Medical Center, senior scholar at Georgetown Law, Anthropology Research Associate at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America Global Health Committee. He served as a volunteer to outbreaks overseas including hands-on Ebola patient care in Sierra Leone and Liberia (Doctors without Borders) 2014, MERS 2013, SARS 2003, as well as HIV, H5N1, Zika, yellow Fever, and pneumonic plague 2017 (with WHO/USAID/CDC).  Since Jan. 6, 2020 he has contributed more than 100 posts to Science Speaks on COVID-19 and traveled to China in February 2020. He initially proposed, then fundraised and helped design the content for 2018-2022 Smithsonian Exhibition on Epidemics due to zoonotic viruses. From 1982-1988 he trained at University of California San Francisco and Harvard and was an attending physician at the NIH (NIAID) in the 1990s while in the U.S. Public Health Service.  

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