While the battle for the soul of humanity amidst the dreaded Coronavirus Disease is ongoing, it is crucial to find out how the inhabitants of the world have been divided along the inglorious “Us” versus “Them.” Apparently, China, the US and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are in the eye of the storm. The ugly scenario began when the fatal outbreak started in Wuhan, China on 31st December 2019. While the New Year was still dressing up to process like a royal bride in the biblical gold of Ophir, a monster of a bridegroom had clandestinely set up a time bomb for this unsuspecting bride. What the world is now experiencing is what remains of the unsavoury narrative.
When the 34-year-old ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital, Li Wenliang, who first tested the disease raised alarm on December 30th 2019 about the existence of a contagious new virus that resembled the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the Chinese government muffled him into silence. Unfortunately, he died of Coronavirus disease. Surprisingly too, in an article entitled “Why Was It So Hard to Raise the Alarm on the Coronavirus?” published on Intelligencer, David Wallace-Wel disclosed how before midnight of January 20, 2020, a Harvard epidemiologist by the name Eric Feigl-Ding posted a long, terrifying Twitter thread to call the attention of World Health Organisation (WHO) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to immediately declare a public health emergency on the new Coronavirus. He was ignored. With the whistleblowers gagged, WHO kept buying time to come up with an official statement on what it would later designate as COVID-19 on 11 February 2020, not “Wuhan-Coronavirus” or “China-Coronavirus” for reasons it gave as fear of stigmatization – We will come back to this.
By this time (February), China had built a state-of-the-art facility to contain the disease. The world’s leading health body still had not advised the world on taking concrete steps to avert Goliath’s weapon. Thanks to sagacity, many African countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Morocco, Rwanda, Kenya, South Africa et al started enforcing lockdown measures to reduce infections and minimize fatalities. The US did not pay attention to what was happening. It was around April when the disease had flown from Asia to the rest of the world and various countries were running helter-skelter that WHO started emphasizing on testing, tracing and treatment. By this time, the numbers in terms of infections and deaths had risen exponentially in Italy, Iran, Spain and later the United States of America and the United Kingdom (UK). It was not until the infections and fatalities had reached an alarming rate that WHO described the outbreak as a pandemic and epidemic on March 11, 2020. It was at this time that the Director-General of WHO also disclosed that: “There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, and 4,291 people have lost their lives.”
Perhaps alarmed by what seemed as either complicity or conspiracy, the US President, Donald Trump threatened to withdraw finances for the organisation. In what appeared like a move for empathy in the face of a grave accusation, the body was quick to deny Trump’s allegations. It also covered face by insisting it acted as at when due. There is a perception that Coronavirus was manufactured, manipulated and reengineered. This theory suggests that the dubious project actually started in the US before the Trump presidency before it was moved to a lab in China. There is another assumption that the virus originated from a Wuhan lab as part of China’s efforts to compete with the US. Well, it is curious to know why Fox News has been leading the charge on that conjecture. It is left to investigative journalists to dig up the facts. With Trump on one hand and Xi Jinping and WHO on the other, a new reality was dawned upon us – A sure clash of titans. While the rest of the world was busy watching this melodrama, its citizenry were haemorrhaging due to the virus which had been transported to all 7 continents.
While this quagmire lasted, on Apr 7, 2020, WHO came out to say wearing a facemask was inconsequential in the fight against the disease. As days grew into weeks and weeks into months, the body seemed to have put the car on reserve gear – the narrative suddenly changed as the organisation issued a statement on “When and how to use masks.” It is now encouraging people to wear a facemask before going out to avoid being infected with the virus. There has also been a lack of clear explanation of the distinction between social distancing and physical distancing. Any layperson could conceive social distancing as avoidance of social gatherings not necessarily keeping away from physical contact or touch.
It was only in mid-April that WHO advised various nations to declare lockdown with other effective measures such as staying at home, maintaining social distancing and washing of hands with alcohol-based sanitizers or running water and soap among others – As a consequence, the world entered its default settings as businesses, schools, sports and religious activities were shut down. This further created a dichotomy between those who tested positive for COVID-19 and other potential victims; this is aside those who were not tested. Another divide is that between patients who were on quarantine and those who were locked down in their homes. Nothing was and is still been done on the dangers of stigmatizing those who test positive for the disease. Without any counselling-advisory for families of those who died of Coronavirus, their loved ones were disposed of. It is surprising that WHO was quick to believe whatever China said but slow to investigate any randomized trial drugs or vaccines.
For example, one would have thought that the President of Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina would be given a pat on the back for producing what other G-8 countries of the world could not – But no! Again, WHO was quick to distance itself from the COVID-Organics (CVO) herbal-solution developed by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research. It did not show any interest in sending scientists to investigate the new-found cure for Coronavirus which is still harvesting lives with reckless abandon. Well, thumbs up for other African countries that have started ordering for the Madagascan recipe to help curb the menace. However, in an exclusive interview with France 24, a Paris based international television news network, Rajoelina accused the WHO of refusing to endorse the herbal cure because it was made in Africa. He further confirmed that there is a marked improvement in the country’s COVID-19 recovery ratio as 105 of 171 patients had been reportedly cured. Until now, there are no COVID-19 deaths in that country and schools have re-opened.
COVID-19 Africa reported that the Madagascar president declared that: “Whether WHO approves or not the Herbal medicine that has been discovered to cure COVID 19, he will continue to use it to heal people.” The report further quoted him as saying: “It is not time to play or make money but to save people from this evil pandemic. God has shown us real medicine but evil people want to oppose. I will use it to save my people and Africa at large. Those who underestimate Africans, let them be. The girl you are seeing on the picture being tested was tested positive one week ago but she’s completely healed by the same Herbal medicine.” Meanwhile, as WHO is foot-dragging to take a stand on the matter, African countries like Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Congo, Comoros and Tanzania have picked interest in the products.
In an article “Corona Virus: Politics of Size Mocks Madagascar’s Miracle Medicine, Bill Gates’ Gamble Cages Nigeria” Ikeddy Isiguzo made the point that: “Madagascar is considered an interloper in the high-class global politics encapsulated in the race for the Coronavirus cure. It disrupted the narrative about technological fortress that the world powers, so-called, claimed to have built for themselves.” He surmised that: “As they brood their sudden loss of control, Madagascar with the confidence of world power, against WHO protocols, found a curative and preventive product for the Corona Virus, all in a month. Its people are using it, and it is available for whoever would be interested.”
Those who smell a rat in the way WHO is relating with China in the wake of this pandemic might have legitimate grouse. This is because aside from the $20 million China offered WHO in March, it was swift to offer an additional $30 monetary aid to the organisation immediately Trump assured that he would make good his promise of halting financial help to the body. Is this part of the grandmaster plan to overtake the US as a world power? Well, Trump’s decision might suffer some moral convulsions but this writer feels that the situation would teach the current world power a lesson to invest more in Africa rather than on modern warfare or media propaganda. In an opinion titled “The Chinese Health Organization?” Brahma Chellaney, a Professor of Strategic Studies and Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin reiterated that WHO has failed miserably in terms of providing the right leadership. He maintained that: “More damaging [is the fact that], it helped China, where the crisis originated, to cover its tracks.”
Before China thinks of overtaking the US as a world power, it must come clean in its alleged involvement in arms deals in Africa and “Father-Christmas” loan offers across the continent which has the potency to re-colonize this part of the world. Besides, its conservative form of governance plus the complicated language is unattractive to Africans. One clear lesson for the African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is that they should use this COVID-19 experience which has shot medical tourism abroad on the foot to rally round Madagascar and other countries which have the potential for local solutions to the disease to find homemade solutions to every problem. For the rest of us, another important lesson is that the matters arising from the COVID-19 quagmire is that the story is more than meets the eye.
Where does Nigeria which superintends over the continent in terms of leadership, finances and population stand in all these? Well, the citizenry is watching with keen interest to see what the government would do concerning those who have made claims of a possible cure for the disease. Apparently, the body language of the Federal Government through the Ministry of Health, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 do not seem to look in the direction of those claims. Perhaps our penchant for foreign medication like foreign-rice makes it impossible to garner support for home-made products and debuting efforts at biodiversity. Where is the “Proudly Nigerian” slogan? Sadly, China seemed to have done permanent damage to our DNA of science and innovation. Evidences are all other the place. For instance, with about 174 universities including pharmaceutical and medical research institutes, we are unable to look inwards for solutions.
With only about 21 laboratories across the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) without enough bed spaces, it is not yet Uhuru for the war against Coronavirus in the country. The disclosure of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman of the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha during the daily briefing of the task force on 11/05/2020 that President Muhammadu Buhari directed the team to pick COVID-Organics which was donated by Madagascar and sent through Guinea-Bissau might be exciting but it appears humbling for the giant of Africa to look towards “Nazareth” for help. It was the former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere who said: “Independence cannot be real if a nation depends upon gifts.”
The FG’s recent revelation that in global solidarity it has signed up for a drug trial to tackle COVID-19 pandemic with Lagos, FCT, Ogun, Kaduna, Sokoto and Kano states enrolling on the World Health Organisation (WHO) treatment regimen is one that need’s urgent scrutiny by the National Assembly and various stakeholders for fear that we make of occur fellow countrymen and women guinea-pigs of a sort. Unpopular as he may be to the rest of the world, the former Cuba President, Fidel Castro once said this about his country: “Our country does not drop bombs on other peoples, nor does it send thousands of planes to bomb cities; our country does not possess nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, or biological weapons. Our country’s tens of thousands of scientists and doctors have been educated in the idea of saving lives.” Because of his massive investment in the health sector, today, Cuba supplies countries like Italy, Brazil, Grenada Germany and Venezuela among others with healthcare providers in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic. Can we borrow a leaf from this?
In what appeared as “what is good for the goose is not good for the gander,” while WHO vehemently resisted naming Coronavirus as “Wuhan-coronavirus” or “China-coronavirus” in Nigeria, the body watched while Lassa, a community in Southern Borno, Borno State where a certain fever broke out was named after the disease – Lassa Fever. Till date, Lassa Fever is used in all WHO documents for the hemorrhagic sickness. The silence of the number one health organisation amidst this discrimination calls to question its sense of fairness, equity and justice. Perhaps diseases which are not on a large scale and are domiciled in Black Africa have no commercial value and deserves no attention.
In conclusion, it is vital to pay attention to Lewis Coser’s take on “Us” Versus “Them.” The scholar notes that this “…comes about when some groups cannot get heard or when some groups feel that they have a vested interest in suppressing voices being raised and resort to violence rather than opening up the political structure.” To come out clean, WHO needs to create a global structure which accommodates and respects people of all continents. It is high time the international media and international community through the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague investigated China, the US and WHO for their alleged complicity in infecting the world with COVID-19. Only then would the gimmicks of the adage which says “He who pays the piper calls the tune” or who becomes world power or not be mitigated.
Fr. Justine Dyikuk is a Catholic Priest and Researcher who combines being the Editor of Bauchi Caritas Catholic Newspaper, Communication’s Director of Bauchi Diocese with his job as a Lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Nigeria. He is also the convener of Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI Nigeria, a faith-oriented Non-Governmental Organisation based in Jos. He can be reached through – email@example.com.