The Corona Virus Disease 2019 better known as COVID-19, finally landed in Africa. This is after its debut in China, brief and deadly sojourn in South-Korea, long and professional contract in Europe where it is ravaging Italy, (Almost finishing a whole generation), Spain, Turkey, U.K etc. It flew to Canada and it is currently feasting on the same table with Donald Trump.
Africa was largely virgin, un-touched and barren, for many months it remained a dark content with Utopian and futuristic reasons why the virus was keeping at bay. Tales of superior genetics, ancestral curses finally catching up with colonialists and oppressors, God’s divine protection, China needing an army of slaves after destroying America and Europe were chats online, in parliaments, markets, boardrooms and even bedrooms.
In Europe, top scientists were puzzled as to why the highly contagious and deadly virus was not destroying the home of Ebola and many other viruses natural or man-made. Scientists were eager to catch some Africans, lock them up inside cages in Laboratories deep under mountains and conduct tests and more tests to unravel the mystery.
Africa watched as citizens from the wealthiest, most developed, most advanced, most democratic, most happy, most disciplined, most civilized countries degenerated into savagery as they raided supermarkets and shops filling their shopping baskets with tissue, wipes and any form of toilet paper. Videos were shared from different countries from Australia to the U.S some of persons with 200 pieces of tissues refusing to share even one with other shopper’s, with fights frequently breaking down.
Africa was in utter shock as to what was happening in the white world. The shock was short lived! The virus suddenly landed unannounced in the continent but mostly the Arabic North where the Arabs fondly labelled as European wannabees, were finally getting a taste of Europe. When it hit black Africa, just much like with everything else it was imported, the first victims were the Chinese and mostly Caucasians running away from Europe, business people and tourists. Typical Africa, even with the fore-warnings, information and awareness, was found naked, willing and ready to give in to the virus.
Politicians vs Ventilators
Healthcare in Africa basically takes a back seat compared to other favorite sectors such as Politics and elections, coups and violence, corruption and dependence on donor aid etc.
That is why Covid-19 is assured it will gel in smoothly and settle pretty in a continent with countries like South-Sudan that has four ventilators and five vice-presidents. People in power are far much more important than life saving machines.
Sierra-Leone has a single ventilator for its 7.9 million people, Burkina Faso with 11 ventilators for its 20.9 million people, Central Africa Republic only 3 ventilators for its 4.8million people.
African leaders are fond of hiding their money or rather loot, abroad and when they fall ill or even when their spouses want to give birth, they are booked into business class flights and shipped to top-notch hospitals for care. Covid-19 has changed all that with every little medical space taken over and the likes of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hospitalized, African leaders will have to do with the health squalor that they have maintained in their countries.
The informal settlements and neighbourhoods in Africa where these stories and discussions were ongoing finally have been left vulnerable, but as the situation on the ground is, not only to the ravages of the virus but also to the ravages of life and excesses of authorities.
1. Stay at home. A majority of Africans work on a hand to mouth basis. Cleaners, public service vehicles crew, shoe shiners, construction workers, casual factory workers, laborers, hawkers etc. the dark continent is filled with persons moving small goods and services. These are survivors who make less than five dollars a day which is usually wholly gobbled up say for a dollar which is saved for rent. How will this population stay at home?
2. Social distance. Just like Italians, Africans are close-knit families and extended families are more of the norm whether in the rural or urban areas. In the rural areas there is enough space and fresh air for everyone but with urbanization, persons living in informal settlements can’t afford social distance. The average household in the slums is usually a family of five in a ten foot by ten foot house. A singe neighborhood might have five thousand of such houses cramped in a very small piece of land. All amenities i.e. Toilets, bathrooms, water points etc. are shared and few in numbers.
3. Sanitize. Sanitizers are a preserve of the rich or found in private hospitals. This is alien invention that has to be introduced with lots of public information. Few believe that wiping hands with a bit of liquid makes the hands clean. Potent sanitizers are also made of alcohol and this poses a setback within the deeply religious continent.
4. Wash hands. This is one of the top strategies to prevent infecting self and others but water is a luxury in many informal settlements. Extra handwashing means extra jerry cans of water further stretching meager budgets. Water is also either highly rationed or taps always dry in most neighborhoods. When it rains it floods, when it doesn’t rain water points are revered like diamond mines.
5. Lockdown. Touted as one of the most effective way to curb transmission, many Western and Asian countries are in partial or complete lockdown. In Africa some smaller countries are running it quite effectively but more populous countries will be facing greater challenges. How will the majority poor be taken care of in the days they will be in lockdown? Without government provisions anarchy will take over after a few days. The larger population can’t even stock up food to last five days whereas Lockdowns take an average 21 days. Families also squeezed in the tiny houses for days will result in psycho-social issues for many people. Shared amenities will mean people have to venture out and intermingle when nature calls, showers etc. That is where they will meet-up with security officers who will be more willing to swing a baton than urge swiftness and proposed hygiene measures. We predict a return of flying toilets in mega slums such as Kibra in Kenya.
6. Ignorance. Sheer ignorance amongst Africans including advanced theories on reason why the continent has not been ravaged and why Africans are “immune” to the virus. The few cases reported have just urged on their self-belief. A disease of the Whites, a disease of the rich etc.
7. Resilience in the face of adversity. Africans argue that they endure diseases every single day. The top killer in the World Malaria, the deadly hemorrhagic virus Ebola, Cholera, Typhoid, Cancer etc. so to them Covid-19 is just one of the many ailments that comes, ravages and is defeated.
8. Religious Beliefs. Africans are highly religious be it traditional sects or formalized denominations, religion is where the opium of the continent lies. Religious crusades, services and gatherings are only rivaled by Political rallies during presidential campaigns. Even one of the largest churches in the World is in Nigeria. Prophets, miracle bishops etc. have found a fertile ground in Africa and the radicals will do anything and believe anything they are told. In Kenya a controversial televangelist who performs miracles dared the government to give him 20 positive patients and he will turn them negative. Governments have their work cut out in taming religious groupings, although the religious bug is embedded in them too. Some governments even organized National prayers as a strategy to combat the virus.
9. Donor Aid. The continent watched as other continents fell one by one to the virus and the narratives of Africa being immune spread widely and very fast. Africans found it difficult to believe the virus landed in their lands because the positive cases started being reported coincidentally when Millions of dollars was set aside by various International agencies for combating the virus in the continent. African governments are highly mistrusted by their citizens and with corruption being core in many governments, quick calculations led to the conclusion, no Corona in Africa just greedy government officials out to grab and loot the funding.
Africa remains the most vulnerable continent in all manner of pandemics, disasters, epidemics, conflicts, economic downturns etc. Covid-19 has proven that our pompous, glamorous African leaders cannot just take the next flight out or hop into a private jet to a high class European hospital. This time they just might perish with their country-folk without even having an option of importing a doctor.
Africans are also facing little prospect of getting International donor funding as most of the traditional development partners are much more than ravaged by the deadly Virus already. This time they will have to forget about funding and look inwards.
Ignorance must be quickly replaced by the reality of the Corona ravages through intensive public awareness. Governments must be creative with localized solutions, strategies and interventions but learning from best practices from other ravaged countries. Some Countries such as South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya are responding quite positively but with only a few cases reported so far, how will they cope when their confirmed cases hit triple digits?
As we follow the laid down health procedures, we can as humans; wish, hope, support scientists, healthcare providers, medical services officers and pray that we overcome the Covid-19 as soon as possible.