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AFRICA: Post-coronavirus

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Keeping things confidential or secret is dangerous. It is a health issue. It should go immediately. it is about lives – Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (Director General of the World Health Organisation)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday, January 30th 2020; designated Corona Virus a Global Health Emergency.

But whilst some leaders were negligent; some took the lead. Whilst some governments got the right messages to their citizens; some governments’ communications at best were confusing.

Make no mistake, no country had a unique case. Countries that took absolute preventive measures have the same if not similar outcomes. Same for countries who relaxed measures earlier than expected. Same for countries who relied on the clergy rather than scientists. Same for countries who played politics with the virus until the last minute.

Whilst some leaders are laser-focused on the task before them; others are unravelling before our eyes. Whist some leaders were open and honest about the impending challenge before their countries and citizens; others decided to dilly dally and show a lack of candour during a national crisis. Whilst some countries heeded the call and took measures, some countries didn’t take heed and any basic preventive measures till late March 2020.

This is the time to be constructive in finding lasting solutions that would be applicable. The time to be critical would be a post-Coronavirus. From my observations, the coronavirus pandemic is leaving in its trail, a vacuum, which is that the Super Power status of several countries would not be the same post Coronavirus.

And when there is a vacuum, it is naturally filled (a perfect example as we witnessed with some animals on some streets wandering and wondering where human beings were). It is reported that there have been fifteen flu pandemics in the last five hundred years. Now historically, pandemics have allowed people (and countries) to break with the past and proceed with the new. And this would not be different.

At the post-Corona discussion tables, all countries on all Continents would be at par. This might look like an impossibility but it is what would and should play out. The Corona Pandemic is akin to an examination taken by circa 197 Presidents and the world can see their results.

Ironically, some of the Presidents took the same examination at different intervals enabling other leaders to have foreknowledge of what to expect and be prepared. So, feigning ignorance was not and cannot be an excuse at deflecting responsibility. The pandemic is unravelling a lot of manifold issues, (e.g. the global gap and the weakness of the health sector) all centred around efficient and pragmatic leadership and the world can see every leader’s scorecard.

For the African Continent (like the rest of the world), the critiquing would and should come post COVID19 but for now, this is the time to be constructive. This is not the time for ‘paddle your own canoe’ political stance and theatrics. This is not the time for nationalistic interest but collective cooperation to mitigate the repercussions of the pandemic on the Continent.

Some poignant observations must be highlighted here. The pandemic has shown that no country in the world can decide to fight a pandemic and still keep her economy running full throttle. The result would be an incapable and overwhelmed public health system.

The pandemic has shown that no country can quarantine inequality (as witnessed with the case of the Asian nation which curtailed the virus but the minotaur reared its head amongst the immigrant workers’ community; just because it was overlooked. What this means is that one oversight can derail existing laid-down plans).

The pandemic showed that a lot of countries (if not the world) have little investment in their public health systems. In April 2001, the African Union members met in Abuja, Nigeria and drew up a communique titled The Abuja Declaration where the countries pledged to set a target; allocating at least 15 percent of their annual budget to improve the health sector. Only a handful of African countries have implemented this declaration. This would be the best time for the countries who have not met this target to do so.

Since no country in the globe is robust enough to carry the workload to fight this current pandemic, several questions would come to mind from the African perspective for African leaders to ponder on; do you use your resources to buy PPEs (personal protective equipment), ventilators or dedicated hospitals?

Secondly, since international systems are usually slow to respond, would it not be advisable for an enhanced role for the private sector in stepping into the health sector? And if it is the next step, should it be here for a long haul? What are the measures to be put in place to take care of the medical personnel who would also have their own bout of trauma or depression from being on the frontlines of combating the virus? Wounded and tired economically but the Continent would get through this, previous epidemics put Africa in a better position to come out of this.

African nations are building on their experiences in combating past epidemics. Due to shortages of PPEs, facemasks, ventilators etc; African nations have to find innovative ways to get these items and one way would be to manufacture these products (not forgetting medical training to the medical staff who need to be trained).

The pandemic has reshuffled the requirements for being a world player as it is glaring for all to see. Efficient crises management and pragmatic leadership are some of the requirements. Another would be vaccine development as this is the other ingredient to be a world player in this current global dispensation, we are in. And Africa can be in this field too. Playing her part, Ghana is using drones to speed up testing. Rwanda is using drones for awareness whilst scaling up daily testing.

While in Senegal, a laboratory used its AIDS and Ebola experience to develop a quick one-dollar diagnostic covid testing kit. The idea is to build two to four million testing kits not just for Senegal but for the Continent. And also; 3D Printed ventilators which would cost sixty dollars.

When African countries begin to experiment with homegrown remedies cum vaccines like Madagascar, these initiatives should not be brushed off but scientifically tested. Globally, a lot less funds would be directed to traditional (military) defence needs because the funds would not be there. More funds would have to be channelled to medical defence needs including Research and Development, biotechnology etc.

Another requirement would be expertise. This pandemic has revealed the enormous African medical expertise in the diaspora. And you couldn’t see African medical officials in the diaspora in the news; in the frontlines of fighting the pandemic and not wonder why they left and what made them all leave the Continent.

Leaders of the African Continent would have to upgrade the health sector now as more resources would need to go into medical infrastructure because health is wealth.

Furthermore, Governments need to have clear plans of getting out of this pandemic and each step must be determined by the success of the previous step. And as with others, African countries would have to gear up health facilities for the second wave of infections if it so happens.

This pandemic is akin to a reset button. An opportunity to review things that were not working in the past and make sure such things begin to work. Parts of life dear to us would take time to come back and life would go back to normal but gradually and with a few exceptions. One way or the other, societies would be forced to adapt to these new exceptions. Planning for the gradual ease of lockdown is still an inexact science. And while social distancing is the term being used in the media and by some experts, I see it as physical distancing and social closeness being practised on the Continent.

One other fallout of this Coronavirus pandemic is that some African countries would learn from this pandemic and become medical havens (within capital cities but must especially, be sited outside capital cities as this would bring development to other cities) and evolve these havens into medical tourism. The hope is that many African countries would see this opportunity in this difficulty and these countries would latch on to it.

Succinctly put, Africa would not know the true extent of lost revenues on the Continent till the pandemic is over. This is so due to the fact that at the end of the day, no amount of financial assistance and medical aid on one hand and debt diplomacy on the other hand from a Good Samaritan Super Power would be able to ameliorate or compensate for the loss or revenue(s) each of the 54 countries on the Continent has experienced which would be going into tens of billions of dollars.

Finally, and to be very candid; the experiences of citizens, institutions and leaders in Africa and other Continents are so manifold that there is no way (absolutely no way) questions won’t be asked as to the real genesis of the nemesis cum disease called Coronavirus. This is one simple question which has a simple answer and the world and Africa would want to know the truth. The simple truth.


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