How COVID-19 has exposed the ‘African disease’

556 views | Victor Gai | April 12, 2020

FILE PHOTO: The ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China, is seen in an illustration released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. January 29, 2020. Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM/CDC/Handout via REUTERS.

Many Nigerians are optimistic that we are going to overcome the Coronavirus pandemic but nobody can certainly tell when or what would remain of humanity and the world after the COVID-19 pandemic.

With over 100,000 deaths and over a million infected persons globally and a daily rise in prevalence, it is like nations are embarking on a ‘wild goose chase’, mainly due to the asymptomatic nature of the disease at the initial stage.

As nations embark on a contact and tracing mission to track infected persons, isolate or quarantine them, so also are others socializing with others and innocently spreading the virus.

Therefore, when the Coronavirus would stop is the greatest expectation of mankind as the entire world is been put on lockdown as a result of the worst disease to affect mankind in a century.

The last time the world was brought to its knees was during the Spanish flu (1918-1920) where 500 million people around the world were infected and where between 50-100 million perished.

The Spanish flu was preceded (though not immediately) by the ‘Black Death’ (1331-1353), a medieval plague of immense horror that was personified with a name.

In the aftermath of these plagues, Europe, the epicentre of these diseases experienced social and economic change triggered by lessons learnt from those pandemics, which would later be to the benefit of mankind.

The Industrial Revolution led to greater economic prosperity for Europeans but also brought with it social problems like crime, diseases, wars, conflicts, inequalities and so on. 

But Europe was prepared for all these because of the lessons learnt from those pandemics. There were improved health systems, improved hygiene and sanitary conditions, innovations in drug production, use and administration as well as medical research.

Since then the world has never looked back. For a hundred years, no disease has brought the world to its knees because medical science has a ready-made antidote to control and eliminate any disease before it becomes a catastrophe. Several diseases that could have resulted in a pandemic and claim millions of lives have been put at bay even as the world enjoyed economic and social prosperity and an ever-increasing population.

Also, the second world war had seriously ravaged and damaged deviant Japan and Germany but it looks like, of all nations that participated in the war, these two nations have experienced extra-ordinary recoveries which can be attested to by their current state of development.

History has taught us that there is a success spirit behind every seemingly bad situation, which is why Africans, especially Nigerians should begin to pray that the COVID-19 turns out for good for us as a nation rather than continue to sound defeatist and lamenting over what we know little about or nothing about.

Moreover, Europe has learnt a lot from its past but Africa has learnt little from its past; perhaps because most of our crises are self-inflicted. Crises like civil wars, communal clashes, coup-d-etat and so on are man-made and little lessons are learnt from them compared to catastrophes like pandemics, earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, floods, wildfires- all of which occur outside Africa and which need enormous financial and technical investment to control. 

The Ibos of Nigeria can, however, be singled out as people who have learnt the hard way. Out of the ashes of the Nigerian Civil war, they have become one of the most enterprising and progressive ethnic nations in Africa.

Meanwhile, some Nigerians have reflected on post-COVID-19 Nigeria. A Professor of Political Science, Jideofor Adibe in his article: ‘Nigeria after COVID-19’, asked: “Will COVID-19 reset the world and people’s attitude to wealth and material things?

He went on: “In Nigeria, the virus equalized everyone: the rich are staying alone in their flashy mansions with no one to visit or genuflect to them, those with private jets cannot fly them and it is no longer status symbol to announce a vacation or medical tourism abroad. The poor have seen the rich brought to their level and things may no longer be the same – at least for a while after the pandemic. For instance, since the pandemic started, those who had spent time strategizing for 2023 have gone quiet. Sirens and vicious outriders no longer terrorize people on the streets. Feelings of foreboding have overtaken the land as no one knows what tomorrow holds. In fact with the pandemic, the common humanity of us all comes to the fore while cravings after material things seem to have receded to the background – at least for now”.

But in a country that has institutionalized the culture of primitive accumulation, worship of wealth and power at the expense of the welfare and the good of all, it is hoped that a pandemic like COVID-19 would bring the desired change. Aside from its negative effect which is not desirable, may there be a social change, such that we have much clamoured for, amen! 

If there is any institution that has suffered the most neglect, despite its importance to human existence, it is the health institution. Not even the Coronavirus outbreak had been able to exorcise the ghost that has been haunting our health system, at least for now.

Only recently, during a parley with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, demanded to know from the Minister of Health, Osaze Ehanire, if Health Workers working extra hours in our airports and other testing points were covered by insurance and hazard allowance. The Minister struggled to escape being probed further because of the embarrassment his answer would have on the country in the full glare of the world press. Seeing that he could not escape it, he responded that he was not aware. Gbajabiamila then asked how as Health Minister he wouldn’t be aware of persons who put their lives on the line for the country.

Then, of course, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, admitted that the COVID-19 had exposed the level of decay in the nation’s health system.

Therefore, were it not for COVID-19, Nigerians would have perpetually continued to exist under a sub-human condition, engineered by a grand conspiracy by the ruling and privileged elite.

If it would take a disease to expose the health system, what does it take to expose the rot in the education, legal and religious systems?

CNN recently reported that President Buhari and other African leaders now give attention to health systems they once neglected.

According to CNN, Africa’s ailing presidents and powerful elites have been known to jet out to seek treatment abroad, instead of investing in healthcare in their own countries.

“Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe died in a hospital in Singapore, and Cameroon’s Paul Biya regularly seeks treatment abroad.

“Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari was out of the country for several months in 2017 for treatment in London for an undisclosed illness and has frequent checks abroad. Since he took office in 2015, he has embarked on at least four medical trips to the UK” and “with flights grounded and countries across the world on lockdown in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, these leaders are getting a wake-up call that they must fix their healthcare systems”, the report stated.

The report also added that “the pandemic has overwhelmed advanced health facilities, and experts predict it could devastate the continent’s fragile health systems, already plagued by inadequate funding and labour disputes”.

“In 2001, the heads of state of 52 African countries met in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja and committed to spending 15 per cent of their yearly domestic budget on health.

“Just a handful of countries have met this target on the continent. They include Tanzania, Rwanda, Botswana and Zambia, according to the WHO.

“But a majority have fallen through the cracks in fulfilling this commitment”, CNN revealed.

With Nigeria grappling with the threat of Coronavirus, it was revealed that the country invested only less than 6 per cent of its budget on health and that Africa stood a far higher risk should the continent be overwhelmed by the pandemic.

“Since it signed the declaration, Nigeria has allocated less than six per cent of its budget to health, and most of the funds are spent on salaries, according to Nigeria-based budget monitoring organization Budgit.

“In a paper published by the Brookings Institute, researchers said although Africa bore 23 per cent of the world’s disease burden in 2015, it accounted for only one per cent of the global health spending for the same year.

“In per capita terms, the rest of the world spends 10 times more on health care than Africa, the researchers said”.

The researchers predict it may be difficult for the countries on the continent to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals with a 2030 deadline with the “current spending environment.”

Nigerian-British historian Ed Keazor agrees that the fallout from the outbreak is a “wake-up call” for governments to prioritize affordable health care.

Keazor, a cancer survivor said he made the difficult decision to move back to London where he has access to affordable care under the National Health Service even though he works in Nigeria.

The filmmaker said he came to Lagos for a research and film festival in March but got caught in the city after the Nigerian government banned all international flights to contain the spread of the outbreak.

Keazor says he’s missed an appointment with his doctor in the UK due to the travel restriction, and that would not have been a problem if he could get the same quality of care locally.

“If I could get the same quality of care here (Nigeria) as in the UK where I’m a taxpayer and getting good medical services, I would rather stay back here because this is where my work and my larger family is but unfortunately, it’s not there,” Keazor told CNN.

For now, he hopes the health crisis will change the Nigerian government’s focus to where he says it should be.

“I hope the enormity of this problem has brought home the urgency of investment in health care infrastructure to the government and whatever the country looks like after this crisis is over, our priorities will be focused on health care and education,” he said.

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