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Opinions of Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Columnist: Dr Ademisoye

Fighting the war on coronavirus spread in Africa

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At this slow pace of one per cent delivery, when will Ghana reach the herd immunity threshold of vaccinating 70% of the country’s total population of 31 million people? In contrast, in the United States, about 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccine shots are administered per day, while more than 1.5 million people have already taken the AstraZeneca vaccines in Britain (Alex Tabarrok, “We could reach herd immunity so much faster, “ The Washington Post, February 14, 2021, P. B1 & P. B4.).

However, to compound the COVID-19 problem and the health conditions at a larger scale, in many African countries like Nigeria, for example, there are shortages of medical equipment such as oxygen cylinders, a life support equipment to help a patient in the ICU setting to breathe. There are shortages of oxygen reported in many hospitals in the country.

Question: How do COVID-19 patients survive the deadly virus in the country without the adequate supply of oxygen for the aid of the patients, to survive in the Intensive Care Unit?

It is also mind-boggling, troublesome and worrisome to learn that patients at the COVID-19 Isolation centres in the country are responsible for the purchase and supply of oxygen cylinders. What happens to the patient, if there is no money available to purchase the oxygen cylinder? It means a question of life or death! This is the current official practice at the hospitals throughout Nigeria, meaning, it is no longer the responsibility of the government/hospital management to supply oxygen cylinders to aid in the treatment of patients in an ICU setting.

The case of Prof. Femi Odekunle, a member of the Presidential Advisory against Corruption, who died of COVID-19 complications at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, is revealing and instructive about the dilemma of shortage of oxygen cylinders for patients in the country’s hospitals and medical centres. You may recall that as of now, the poor African countries have not developed and produced any COVID-19 vaccine on the continent for combating the surging virus among the African population. Hence, the tangible instrument or method of controlling and curtailing the spread of the deadly virus as recommended by the government/CDC, is being treated with laxity, ignorance and reluctance to comply by many Africans and Nigerians alike.

The government/CDC guidelines and protocols insist on people to wear the face masks, engage in social distancing of 6ft, washing of hands with soap and water, use of hands sanitiser, avoidance of crowded and congested social gatherings, wedding and burial ceremonies, etc.

However, complying with and practising these guidelines and protocols is the first line of defence for the African people or Nigerians in the absence of the vaccines at the moment on the continent. Unfortunately, many Africans or Nigerians are driven by some myths involving the religion, cultural (e. g., the use of herbs to treat the COVID-19 deadly virus) beliefs or sheer illiteracy and ignorance about the deadly virus among the people.

For instance, the President of Tanzania (a country of 60 million people), John Magufuli, is not officially recognising, nor a true believer of the existence of COVID-19 deadly virus in the country. He is against the public discourse about the deadly virus among the population. So, he has no plan of acquiring, purchasing and distributing the vaccines for combating the spread of the deadly virus among the Tanzanian population. Meanwhile, the country is currently experiencing a rapid surge in confirmed cases and deaths among its population (Source: Rael Ombuor and Max Bearak, “Mounting deaths test Tanzania leader’s stance on virus,” The Washington Post, February 18, 2021, P. A15.).

In this context of non-belief in and ignorance about the COVID-19 virus, is Magufuli living on another planet, which is different from our Earth? I am of the view that President Magufuli lacks accountability to the Tanzanian people. He is demonstrating a poor leadership in the country. Against this backdrop of the lack of global knowledge, exposure to the devastation of and destructive experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic at the family level, I am compelled to characterise the president of Tanzania as a Covididiot.

Imagine, many African governments are financially weak, constrained and limited in their efforts to obtain and secure the vaccine supplies much needed to inoculate their citizens in order to achieve the herd immunity threshold in the country’s population. Well, the future of vaccine distribution in many African countries might be slow, but it isn’t that bleak, because there lies an optimism, a ray of hope and a way forward through the World Health Organisation, via its Covax supply of vaccines programme in the purchase of vaccines and distribution among the poor, low and middle income countries in Africa and around the world. Other countries like Canada and France are helpful in serving as donors and contributing to the pool of vaccines that is made available to the WHO’s Covax programme.

However, my advice to African leaders is, put the interest of the African people first, above the personal and beyond the political interests, by expediting the process of acquiring, securing and distributing the necessary and required quantity of COVID-19 vaccines to combat and prevent the spread of the deadly virus on the African continent. The quick action to be taken by the African leaders is compelling and warranted considering the threat of the recent mutations found in or variants of COVID-19 virus in South Africa, Britain and Brazil, which are rapidly transmissible around the world. It is of great concern and is indeed worrisome, because of its serious implications for the severe risk for public health and the potential threat of deaths for the African people. You may have observed that the data on COVID-19 confirmed cases and related deaths are following the downward trend, but in Africa, the available information is rapidly surging, which is scary and fearful at the moment.

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