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Lessons of COVID-19 pandemic

By Emmanuel Okoroafor
22 November 2021   |   3:34 am
A pandemic, defined as an outbreak of disease that spreads across countries or continents, affects more people and takes more lives than an epidemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic when it became clear that viral illness was severe and spreading quickly over a wide area.

(Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

A pandemic, defined as an outbreak of disease that spreads across countries or continents, affects more people and takes more lives than an epidemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic when it became clear that viral illness was severe and spreading quickly over a wide area. And as we learned from our ongoing experience with COVID-19, a pandemic is a threat to humanity. Left unchecked, no continent or country is spared from its devastation as failure to contain it within a country and allowing it to spill across borders leading to mass hospitalisation, high death tolls and disruption of global economies.

As we have seen in the dark months of 2020, the consequences of pandemics are similar to the ruins that attend the outbreak of hostilities and war, namely high rates of hospitalisation, skyrocketing death toll, restriction of movements and economic meltdown. Usually, a war situation triggers robust and coordinated responses that aim to leave no room for lapses. In such perilous times, resources are geared towards ‘the war effort’ whereby profiteering was frowned upon as a form of sabotage and perpetrators duly punished.

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t unlike an outbreak of war. It is a viral attack on humanity that required a coordinated global response. However, in many regards, the response lacked the attributes of war efforts. An example is the way governments of rich countries set out to protect their citizenry when they commandeered and stockpiled more vaccines than their local populations may ever require, leaving poor countries across the globe without vaccines or without the resources to afford them. Those governments in their blind selfishness forgot what was needed at the time: a global action to arrest and eradicate the menace.

In their parochial wisdom, they failed to remember that in an interconnected global community, their local populations may be revisited with more virulent variants of the virus from the outside world. What was worse: vaccines have expiry dates. Therefore, to have hoarded COVID-19 vaccines perish is criminal. Therefore, rich countries ought to divert their excess stockpile of vaccines to their ‘poor’ neighbours. Otherwise, the pandemic cycle will go on for longer than it is necessary―just because the less privileged countries are not getting the vaccines they need.

Companies and individuals, too, also acted poorly. Many considered the pandemic an opportunity to amass unimaginable wealth. This greedy collective made pecuniary gains their priority and was quick to discredit any idea (or commonsense) that could help but will not generate a lot of money.

Without a doubt, crises present opportunities that could be exploited to create wealth―and such are welcome. However, when faced with a pandemic, an attack that put humanity’s survival in the balance, it is morally wrong to drive for high margins on health-protective measures that the poor cannot afford. One common example is the very essential N95 mask which was approved in the fight against COVID-19. The poor could not afford it. Hence, you see many using homemade, worn-out, dirty masks. We can cite a further example with the substandard sanitisers that flooded the market. We also now hear of poor countries where citizens are required to pay about USD15 to get vaccinated. A clear statement of abandonment of the poor.

The COVID-19 test is another example. There is the Lateral Flow test and there is the RT-PCR test. The government (obviously paid for them) offered the Lateral-Flow test kits free to the population, whereas the RT-PCR test, classed as the Gold Standard for COVID-19 tests, and the accepted pre-travel test, costs from £50 to £200, depending on the test lab. Test centres sprang up everywhere globally cashing in from the RT-PCR tests. All the while, concerns were raised about the RT-PCR tests giving false negatives and positives, but profiteers successfully rubbished such concerns.

Yet the incident of RT-PCR tests yielding false negatives was not limited to a single lab; it happened in many labs across countries. Still, the RT-PCR tests, the golden goose for private laboratories, did not come under scrutiny until recently when the outcry of the public was backed by the voices of health professionals. For crying out loud, the tests are too expensive to turn out false outcomes. What else but greed made the companies and labs talk down on the Lateral-Flow test, but look the other way when the RT-PCR test outcomes were in doubt?  Would the labs refund payments for wrong test results? Your guess is as good as mine.

True, the number of COVID-19 cases overwhelmed the system in some countries and regions. The situation is further worsened by governments’ reluctance to sponsor treatments. In which case, the treatment is up to the individual and his family, and probably friends. Admission deposits in some of the private hospitals went as high as USD30,000, while the cost of treatment per day was about USD700. In government hospitals where there is no requirement for a deposit, patients and their families will buy everything. Oxygen was pushed to the black market, and very expensive when available. Against this bleak backdrop, contracting the virus is not only physically discomfiting, but it could bankrupt you and your family and you could still die. You run out of funds, you perish.

It is as simple as this: If you are not well off financially and you contracted COVID-19, you are likely to die. The thought alone is enough to kill the patient before COVID-19 does.

The COVID-19 pandemic is like a mirror that showed us the ugly reflection of humanity. And as the pandemic ebbs, and the world continues to regain control and recover, governments of countries must atone for their myopia and selfishness. Tackling pandemic, now and in future, requires international collaboration and a government reacting with wartime exigency that demand that it takes control and manage all available resources, pay for services and supplies according to a scale calibrated for government corporations, agencies and trusts; that way, private enterprises will contribute towards governments’ efforts to fight a pandemic, and still make money, albeit at government rates; and that way, greed, scam, cronyism and corruption in procurement will be tamed and everyone will be catered for as long as the pandemic lasts.

When we finally get out of the COVID-19 blackhole, the world shouldn’t forget the key lessons of humanity: No one is safe until everyone is safe; those saved today could become the saviour tomorrow.

Okoroafor is managing director/CEO of Hobark Consultant Management Services Ltd, a business with primary focus on the full-suite of Human Capital Management, writes from UK.