Posted by News Express | 14 April 2020 | 1,462 times
The experiences of countries that are currently at more advanced stages of the COVID-19 pandemic show that social distancing (for all that it is, including, staying at home) is helping to slow down the spread of the infection. Staying at home is a blunt and painful instrument. In the absence of a cure and a vaccine, social distancing is what we have, and it seems to be working. The policy to lockdown to encourage staying at home will, no doubt, be painful to household finance and general wellbeing and will be painful to local and national economies.
For most Nigerians who leave in poor and inadequate housing, it is difficult to stay at home. It is even harder when there is poor power supply and when people are out of pocket and can’t buy food. These socio-economic conditions determine how people in general cope with the additional burden of COVID-19. There are early indications from the US that African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately affected by COCID-19 outbreak. These population groups are more likely to be working lower-level jobs which predispose them to COVID-19 and other risks. They are more likely to be living in poor and multigenerational housing (housing is an important social determinant of health). They are more likely to have pre-existing health conditions, making them vulnerable to COVID-19. Sadly, they are also more likely not to have health insurance, therefore, unable to access the health care that they need. And, after the COVID-19 pandemic, they are more likely to be most impacted. It is all about the underlying inequality.
There are similar patterns of inequality and health disparities in many countries, including Nigeria. Right now, most of the cases of COVID-19 that has been confirmed in Nigeria occur among relatively well-to-do people. This is because (based on what is currently known) COVID-19 is imported from outside our shores. Those who can afford to travel in and out of Nigeria are relatively well-to-do. Thankfully, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is doing a good job in defining, testing, identifying, isolating and contact tracing cases of COVID-19.
NCDC and the healthcare community in Nigeria are our frontlines, helping us to contain COVID-19. We should be grateful to them. We should encourage them. We should pray for them. But they need resources and our cooperation to continue to protect us, to shield our country, while they put themselves in harm’s way so that the virus does not begin to spread wild, wide and fast in our communities. If the latter were to happen, it would overwhelm our healthcare capacity (our healthcare system is comparatively and relatively weak even without COVID-19). It would further endanger doctors, nurses and all those helping us in the frontlines in the ‘war’ against the virus.
It is difficult to stay at home for a prolonged period, particularly, for most ordinary Nigerians who work in daily wage jobs. But it is the same working poor Nigerians that would be most affected by COVID-19 if it breaks through the defensive and protective barriers that the NCDC and others are building and continue to hold. It is the same working poor Nigerians who would be most impacted by the health, social and economic consequences of a prolonged battle with COVID-19.
So, it is in our interest to stay at home. But the government has a responsibility to encourage all Nigerians to stay at home. The recent tweets from Mr President have been very encouraging and helpful. The President has the loudest and most effective voice for persuasion. He should use his platform regularly to encourage, persuade, unite and to inspire all Nigerians always and particularly now. He should work deliberatively and collaborative with all state governors. He should ensure that all the officers of the state that he has entrusted with the responsibility to help the most vulnerable (as they comply with stay-at-home), are doing as he has instructed. He should ensure that law enforcement officers do not use disproportionate force on vulnerable Nigerians who are indeed the real victims. This will build trust and confidence and would help the country unite, overcome and recover faster from this disease.
We are still not able to test enough people. We do not have enough test centres and test kits to do population-based testing. Is there any role for our universities and scientists? Is this a time to commission some of our best scientists to try developing tests and some interventions, looking forward? This investment would not be a waste as our best scientists can learn quite a lot.
Soon, there will be reliable and validated anti-body testing for COVID-19. There is intense competition for resources, tests, devices and equipment in the fight against COVID-19 but let us continue to use all the levers at our disposal to access as many reliable test kits that we can get. The lessons from other countries suggest that ramping testing is important to increase case identification, isolation and contacting tracing. If we can somehow increase population-based testing, our findings would enable us to model. This would improve our understanding of the level of penetrantion of the virus in our population at this time. This new knowledge would give us additional tools and options to act smarter as we try to limit the health and economic impact of COVID-19.
But increased testing would also enable us to do much more than that. It would enable our scientists to begin to undertake research which may be helpful to health, biosecurity and our economy after this pandemic. I hope that despite our real and perceived constraints, we are beginning to think in these dimensions.
Finally, I hope that after this epidemic, we would come together, muster the political will and discipline to look back as we move forward. What and where did we do well? Could we have done better? If we could have done better, why couldn’t we? What and where did we do badly? Why did we do badly? If we are expansive in our exploration, we would be accepting of the problems and challenges and we would be open to solutions. We would never be the same again. As in, ‘business as usual’. Where consequential decision-making is baed on desires to have, and not based on the best evidence.
Instead, we would take education and healthcare seriously. We would value our teachers, academics, scientists and researchers. We will enable them and commission them to work. We would challenge our best minds to work within ethical boundaries to develop the solutions that we need to build a better and much resilient country; a country that works and learns from the inside; a country that compares favourably and collaborates with the outside; a country that is not so outwardly dependent; a country that is indeed independent.
Such a country has to be one that values its people; a country that strengthens its weakest links; a country that understands that the expression of talents, behaviours and attitudes of its people is largely influenced by their environment; that the environments in which people are born, grow-up and work is the by-product of our laws and how they are administered, and the policy choices of government; that the people really do not get what they deserve, where democratic institutions, democratic culture and democracy itself is weak. Because the people have little or no influence on how political leaders emerge into governance and how they assume positions of consequential decision-making, the people are indeed at the mercy of policy choices. The latter have often been regressive in Nigeria.
Policy choices in Nigeria have created an environment where the level of inequality is high. An environment where everything is scarce; where poverty (absolute) levels are high; where survival is a struggle for most people; where people are desperate; and where integrity is low. All of these are interrelated.
May God help us to overcome this pandemic. After that, may we have deep reflections. Let us build our country and economy on what every Nigerian (all Nigerians have talents and every part of Nigeria is blessed with fertile land and mineral resources of human and commercial value) can contribute to enlarge opportunities for all. Let us change the economy from one where only a few Nigerians can take out so much from our so little. Let us consider the best political arrangements, laws and policies that can free all Nigerians to unleash their potential. Let us get our very best to facilitate governance at all levels. Let us together build better communities and a better country.
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