Read more>>"/>

Covid 19: the African experience, the failure of Oms, and the things to do

by Guido Talarico

The Coronavirus pandemic, as we’ve seen, has been dealt with in different ways. Each country, from China to Italy, from the United States to Great Britain or Brazil, has fought the Covid-19 by adopting different strategies. This in itself shows that there has not been, and still is not, a single vision of how to deal with the virus, either in health or social and economic terms. History will tell who had the best approach, although some results already point to best practice. Africa does not escape this logic. Even in the young continent, which is potentially the most exposed to the pandemic because of the still too widespread poverty and poor health infrastructure, the virus has been tackled in different ways.  Let us take four different nations, Eritrea, Guinea, Madagascar and Burundi, as examples of how Africa has dealt with the Coronavirus.

The small but efficient Eritrea has put the person at the centre of its prevention and treatment. The Government immediately imposed the lockdown, which is not easy to implement in Africa where smartworking in fact almost does not exist and where housing does not have Western standards. Nevertheless, the Eritreans, notoriously disciplined, have respected the confinement and have willingly subjected themselves to the constraints imposed by the authorities. At the same time, the government in Asmara, chaired by Isaias Afewerki, has moved in two directions: it has supported the population with substantial food aid and, at the same time, has carried out many swabs in order to identify and isolate the infected with a certain readiness.

It is a policy that has also paid off because over the last 20 years the Asmara government has invested in health care despite the war and isolation. In Eritrea, where prevention and monitoring continue, the virus is now effectively under control. This must be stressed. Eritrea has been able to resist for more than 20 years an unjust war fought against enormously more powerful enemies precisely because the country has always had confidence and has gathered under the leadership of its President, the revolutionary leader and father of the nation Isaias Afewerki. A unity that even at this juncture is paying off and bringing results that other more celebrated nations of Eritrea, such as South Africa, are not achieving.

In Guinea, however, the approach has been different. The President of the Republic, Alpha Condé, who, it should not be forgotten, is a professor of economics, with a background as a lecturer at the prestigious Paris University of Science Po, treated the emergency by adding the health aspect to the social economic aspect. In the first place, he set in motion all the treatment and prevention activities that it was possible to activate, with the closure of the borders and night curfews beyond the lockdown, of course. Measures that in an equatorial country accustomed to living and working outdoors was objectively difficult to implement. Then it was spent, using all his weight as an international statesman, to put the economic issue of the entire continent to the business community. Alpha Condé in particular took a firm stance in calling for the cancellation of Guinea’s and Africa’s public debt as the only way to get the economy back on track and thus create millions of jobs.

Condé has a very important curriculum: for 42 years he was an opponent of the totalitarian regimes that have succeeded one another in controlling his country, sentenced to death in absentia and imprisoned for two years, won the first democratic elections in 2010, was re-elected in 2015 and was also President of the African Union from 2017 to 2018. In short, a great political career, the result of an undisputed personal credibility. Also in the health sector. Guinea in fact between 2014 and 2016 was one of the countries hardest hit by the Ebola virus, with a mortality rate of about 60% which is much higher than that generated by the Coronavirus. To deal with that emergency at the time, laboratories were created to diagnose hemorrhagic fevers. A dramatic experience that the Guineans have not forgotten. Those labs are now proving invaluable in fighting the new virus. But what Condé is most concerned about are the economic consequences of Covid-19. While Africans are proving quite resilient to the virus – because of the numerous pandemics that have already hit the continent – on the economic front, the weaknesses are showing themselves in all their drama. Suffice it to say that Guinea alone will lose no less than USD 290 million due to the pandemic. That is why the former president of the African Union is fighting for concrete and immediate aid to the whole of Africa from the rich countries.

“Africa suffers above all because of the sharp slowdown in imports and exports. In order to mitigate the social consequences of the crisis, our economic partners should totally cancel our public debts, procrastinate our trade debts, give African countries greater flexibility on budget deficits and grant new financial resources. Without this aid we will not be able to cope with the dramatic health and economic crises that the virus is generating,” Condé said in a recent interview.

Then there is the case of Madagascar. A completely autarkic third way. The president, Andry Rajoelina, announced, not without clamor, that he wants to leave the Oms, accusing the World Health Organization of a very serious fault, that is, of wanting to use the pandemic to keep Africa under blackmail. Rajoelina also asked the nations of his continent to follow him on this path, also claiming that his country is able to fight the Coronavirus using a medicine extracted from mugwort (a natural substance also effective against malaria) and other herbs that grow in Madagascar. A medicine prepared locally, which according to Rajoelina is able to heal in ten days coronavirus infected patients, but of which – and this is the accusation – the West and the World Health Organization do not want to know. “It is a curative and preventive drug,” said the president, “thanks to which Madagascar has not recorded any deaths so far. Is it a bad product,” Rajoelina added with bitter irony, “because it is made by a nation that is the 63rd poorest in the world… but that still wants to save the world? Analyzing and verifying the data coming from Madagascar is not easy, but certainly the position of this young and fierce president deserves attention and respect, if only for the courage behind it.

Finally, there is the position of Burundi that we could call “negationist”. In the country overlooking the Great Lakes on 9 June, President Pierre Nkurunziza died suddenly, officially of a heart attack. He was only 55 years old. The official chronicles narrate that the very sporty president was playing volleyball when he was seized with an illness that then, after an apparent improvement, overwhelmed him and led to his death. A death that aroused more than one suspicion among international observers. The South African journalist Simon Allison, said on Twitter “the big question is whether the outgoing president of Burundi died of covid-19 (and whether the authorities will admit it). Burundi has practically ignored the virus, and has even expelled representatives of Oms from the country. According to some articles, Nkurunziza’s wife was positive for covid-19″. A backstage that is consistent with the line that the Bujumbura government has taken since the outbreak of the pandemic: to minimize and pretend nothing has happened. Which is an attitude not too different from the one taken in the first phase by both the President of the United States, Donald Trump, and the British Prime Minister, Boris Jonhson. With the difference that in the USA and Great Britain, thanks to the control systems of more solid democracies, the seriousness of the effects of the virus has emerged at a certain point, forcing the leaders to turn immediately to the front.

In short, the situation in Africa confirms what has so far seemed to be the prevailing global orientation in the fight against the virus, namely that each country adapts its responses to the pandemic according to local circumstances and convenience. This is also understandable, given that each country has different health, economic and infrastructural situations. What emerges as the most alarming fact, however, is that very little has been understood in medical terms. Beyond the various more or less conspiracy theories on the origins of evil, even those still to be deciphered, we can in fact say that the scientific community has been taken by surprise to the point of not being able to indicate a certain path.

From pulmonary hyperventilation to chloroquine, from transfusion therapies to anti-inflammatory drugs, from anti-rheumatics to the mix of antiviral drugs to the herbs of Madagascar, it seems by now evident that the medical community has gone to blunder. A bumpy road that has cost tens of thousands of lives. At this point the issue is legacy. What are we to learn from the coronavirus? And what must we do to alleviate the effects of the next wave of the same virus or other pandemics? The most important question is ethics. Diseases cannot be allowed to become the lethal weapons, the tools of pressure or blackmail, let alone levers for financial speculation. This risk is extremely high precisely because it feeds on two dangerous feelings, namely fear and ignorance. The world must equip itself with new instruments of control capable of effectively countering any hegemonic and prevaricating attempts to use pandemics. At this juncture, the World Health Organization has demonstrated all its scientific and moral inconsistency, largely due to its economic dependence on public and private centres of power. This certainly needs to be changed. Just as new methods must be found to protect the most fragile countries and the poorest populations from attempts to use health emergencies as instruments of conquest and prevarication. Finally, the health issue. Covid-19 has shown that the world is not structured to deal with this kind of pandemic. And since we already know that risks will increase in the future, it is clear that we must invest in health infrastructure and scientific research. Here, too, we must take care that research has an ethical purpose first and foremost, that medicines and vaccines go to everyone and not to swell the pockets of a few.

(Associated Medias) All Rights reserved