Could Coronavirus Pandemic be a Blessing in Disguise?
By Ali Edin and Mohamed Haji,
On 11 March 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Corona Virus 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak a pandemic as the virus continued to spread to other parts of the World from Wuhan in China. It landed in Kenya two days later. Much of the ‘developed’ world approach to the news of the pandemic ranged from careless caution to criminal negligence. USA president Donald Trump ignored the dangers of the virus before dismissing it as ”Chinese virus”. Some senior mandarins in his xenophobic administration termed it ”Kung flu”. America, the world’s greatest power has close to 50 million of its 400 million citizens without any form of health insurance. Close to 70% of those who are dying from the viral infection comes from this demography. The country is now experiencing the highest death rate in the world as Covid19 takes more than 50 thousand lives. President Trump’s conservative estimate of 60 thousand deaths is expected to be just that, a very conservative estimate. Many more are dying in the streets, in care homes, and at homes away from hospitals because they do not have health insurance.
Europe in record time became the epicenter of the pandemic as its borders remained open and by the time they restricted flights, the virus was killing at an alarming rate. Prime Minister of UK, Boris Johnson is reported to have ignored the dangers of the viral spread and his government sat on its hands for weeks before scientists warned of more than 250 thousand deaths if nothing is done. It was only then that the UK instituted measures to help save its NHS and spare lives. The NHS, one of the world’s best health service providers at the point of use was buckling under the weight of Covid-19 patients and the government was forced to institute even more strict measures and a complete lock-down that is said to have hit its economy worse than the 2008 financial crash ensued.
Italy became the first casualty, its healthcare system became overstretched starting to record alarming death rates before China, Cuba and other countries came to its rescue. Spain resorted to very draconian measures after the dangers of the virus became apparent. In a nutshell, Corona exposed the soft-underbelly of the ‘first world’. Experts say the first world’s development ‘status’ is more of hardware than software meaning it can quickly mobilise high-tech, very expensive military attacks in countries thousands of miles away in hours but cannot save their own citizens’ from a pandemic. Misplaced development status or failure to prioritize conflicting needs if war is indeed a need?
Much of Africa ignored calls to take action from health experts and the virus found its way into South Africa and in no time every single African Country was announcing a case. On 13 March Kenya announced its first COVID19 positive case who is believed to have traveled from Ohio through London before landing at the JKIA on the 5th of March. Reports of other cases eventually appeared on the scene and it was less than 2 weeks later the first death was sadly announced. As of 26th April 2020, confirmed cases in Kenya stand at more than 340, a dozen deaths, and 98 recoveries. Coronavirus is now in Kenya and spreading at an alarming rate. Going by the stats and ministry of health projection, cases will hit 10,000 by the end of April although this is said to be a very conservative figure. Were we prepared? or Are we even sure about what we are currently facing?
As the ‘First World’ struggled, Africa with much weaker health systems is experiencing the spread of the virus and is expected to hit as hard if not harder. In an analytical commentary by Dr. Omar Da’ar, a professor of Applied Economics who teaches Health Economics in one of the Middle Eastern Universities, the virus may be devastating in the Middle Eastern and North Africa countries because of their weak health systems and calls for a global concerted effort to help those countries mitigate the anticipated impact. Africa appears to be treating the pandemic as carelessly as the developed world. Some of its constituent nations have turned to ignore the anticipated severity of Covid19 altogether while others are more on PR than tangible efforts to counter the virus. In the first days, they appeared to be reading verbatim, Western nations’ press statements instituting measures that they cannot enforce or that will prove much more devastating. From the economy to health, African nations have nowhere near the capability of countries like Germany or South Korea but took to completely ignoring the restrictive measures that could help reduce the spread of the virus. Kenya allowed a planeload of Chinese travellers into the country as Corona was ravaging that country and downplayed the effect. The airline sacked the whistleblowing security officer leaked the landing of the plane before he was reinstated by the courts signifying the mediocre approach of those responsible for protecting the country’s borders.
The one thing on the minds of every Kenyan is whether our hospitals are equipped enough to fight COVID-19. A Country in which 24 out of 47 Counties have no single ICU bed is not in a position to face a pandemic that is putting Countries like UK, USA, and Italy on their death bed. The County governments have been exposed bare by the news of this novel virus that appears to respect only the Almighty and ICU-status beds and despite the widespread theft of public money that the public was hidden from, the lack of funds in the coffers proved that the only service most Governors and their mandarins indulged was stealing from their citizens. The PR stunts being pulled by Governors who are opening up Isolation wards will turn out ugly once cases start to appear and increase alarmingly as is customary with Corona. The poorly equipped facilities will get overstretched in no time. There were pockets of activities that appeared to win the hearts and minds of their denizens and those were from the unusual suspects. Hassan Joho of Mombasa is one that citizens praised for his swift actions and the tangible mitigation measures he was claimed to be undertaking in the fight against the virus.
As Mombasa remains a very important engine of the nation’s economy, the national government visibility was expected to be much bigger and better but naught was observed. However, the Governor’s daily press statements and parading of what he called were ventilators and ICU beds sponsored by his administration plus an economic stimulus he was the first, and so far, the only governor to announce could go some way to help the majority destitute denizens of Mombasa County cope better with the lockdown if well implemented. This was earning him huge bouquets.
Elsewhere, in counties the country was looking up to provide guidance at times of crisis because they were supposedly lead by ‘well-educated” governors, efforts came a cropper. Zilch was happening! Education appears to be overrated as professors leading these counties look helpless and Corona crawls closer to kill many of their constituents. They are leaving to fate and gave up their fight without firing a shot.
The truth of the matter is that Coronavirus is or ought to be a wake-up call for our leaders now that they have nowhere to run to except the same hospitals they have refused to equip. Despite the multiplicity of challenges already faced by Counties, Corona was an unwelcome visitor but that may usher in urgently needed social and economic reforms. Corona may force governors and other elected politicians to look in the mirror and remind themselves that however much they siphon from the public for private use, another similar crisis that will force them to use the same hospital facilities as the citizens they steal from maybe around the corner. This may help upgrade our health services as some of the loot may be diverted back to their original purposes, health providers that the capitalistic world has, until now, relegated to the back-burner, may be seen for the important roles they play in society and lead to better remuneration. Governors and all those who control public funds may see the fragility of life and living and may just lock their fidgety fingers that always dips into our tills. A lot more good may come from this tragedy and our optimistic will must not dim.
We hope and pray for the best but in times of crisis, it is not in the best of positions to be. Hoping for the best must always be accompanied by preparing for the worst in matters as novel as Corona.
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