Of epidemic, pandemic et al…How prepared Is Africa?

Human development has been characterized by tangible and intangible challenges. From hunter-gathering times through agrarian and industrial societies epidemics and pandemics have altered the course of history and development. The first documented pandemic – the Justinian Plague – in 541 AD was estimated to have killed over 50 million people in three centuries. The second bubonic plague (a.k.a. the Black Death) in 1350 killed about one-third of the world’s population, while the Spanish Flu, of 1918, the deadliest thus far, also killed about 50 million people. In Ghana the influenza epidemic in 1918 and 1919 wiped more than 200,000 people, a figure still disputed as the then British colonial administration ignored and looked the other way as hapless Africans died.

The current pandemic,  Corona Virus or coronavirus and renamed COVID-19, is said to have first appeared in China on November 17, 2019 in the Hubei Province, and on February 11, 2020, the World Health Organization categorized the Chinese epidemic as pandemic.  The respiratory disease is spread by coronavirus.

So far so good for sub-Sahara Africa according to the interactive map of reported COVID-19 cases run by Johns Hopkins University. But because documented cases are not real reflections on the ground, the medical antennae of Africa governments must be made more sensitive than before. The number of infected people on the surface may seem lower as compared to other continents, because there are no wide scale testing centers available; only those with symptoms are tested and counted. Even though the virus may affect the average person, older people with existing health conditions such as respiratory problems, diabetes, heart disease and weaker immune systems are at the most risk. Luckily, only about three percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is older than 65.

Initially imported from outside Africa, the virus is slipping through porous and weak membranes both vertically and laterally within communities. Until Ghana’s ports were shut down, passengers that arrived at the Kotoka International Airports were screened and those without temperature were allowed into the populace. The measure was commendable but barely effective because of the 14-day incubation period of the virus. Ghana, like most Africa countries have now closed, albeit temporarily, their borders to stem rate of import of the virus.

The dilemma that African countries face is inefficient healthcare deliverability system and battle-ready preparedness to combat such pandemics. How quickly can a country set up temporary hospitals to stem epidemics or pandemics? Infrastructure such as specialized intensive care units, quarantine zones and isolation areas, are basically non-existence or woefully inadequate in most countries in Africa. At this critical moments, religious bodies must make their structures and facilities readily available as holding places for those under quarantine and in isolation.

Africa may depend on the West and the outside world for medical solutions, it cannot blame the West for lack of preparedness. And then there are governmental and policy challenges…when must an executive order be put in place for nonessential business to suspend operations? When must a country be locked down?

Among the most crucial steps Africa should take now – and for future needs – are mathematical and other algorithms models for   hospital projections, potential spread and past pandemics.  Elaborate and expanse education, mitigating interventions as well as preventive measures must be employed to stem any potential spread. Africa has unique challenges that must be confronted by unorthodox means.

Given cramped, local and popular yet, haphazard modes of transportation, such as the Boda Boda or piki pikis in East Africa, tro tro and Molue/Danfo in West Africa, “social distancing” will be hard to achieve. Further, because the African people are communal by nature, dwelling places have traditionally been built to accommodate large family members or even as rentals. These “compound” and family structures are predominant in poor neighborhoods in the major cities and in the rural areas.  In the cities, congested slums and ghettos, unapproved and unsupervised business structures and setups pose clear and eminent danger of spreading the debilitating virus.

What is needed most are adherence to laid down restrictions, such as social distancing, including but not limited to prison and hospital visitations. In Ghana, some self-described men of God have defined the pandemic as spiritual that can only be cured spiritually. Others blatantly have flouted presidential directions and held events such as funerals, beach goers and weddings. On the flip side, Standard Chartered Bank of Ghana has employed measures that do not allow more than seven people gather for business transactions. Clients are pre-screened with temperature monitoring device and made to hand-sanitize before entering the lobby. Not only must governments adequately provide for the protection of healthcare workers and officials (holding areas, PPEs or other protective items, disposable gloves, face mask), it must also make concerted efforts to reduce financial burden on the populace by temporarily reducing fuel and utility costs. After all, the coronavirus is not only an acute health concern, it is also as psychological, financial as it is emotional.

Amandla thinks that in the absence of vaccine, the only way to break the chain of infection to stem the spread is to practice basic hygiene protocol as directed by the experts.

We hope the U.K.-based Mologic Ltd., in collaboration with Senegalese research foundation Institute Pasteur de Dakar, headed by Amadou Alpha Sall, and other international research centers come out sooner with a test kit…and vaccine. As we hold our breath in the next several weeks, governments should intensify the education of the people.

And lest we forgot: importation of things as used clothes and such similar imports must be banned for some time for fear of vivifying and perpetuating the virus in Africa.  

Posted by on Apr 1 2020. Filed under Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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