These are extraordinary times for humanity due to the historic global spread of the coronavirus. In Africa, health experts predict that the situation will get worse should containment measures put in place fail. Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is among many African political, religious and civil society leaders calling for global solidarity to help Africa. In a reflection on the Coronavirus pandemic published by BBC, she said that “…African nations have so far been spared the worst; it is only a matter of time until it batters the continent which is the least prepared to fight it.”
What does to be less prepared really mean? It means:
- Lack of adequate health systems capable to respond to a pandemic like this, and to usual health needs of the population
- Asking people to frequently wash their hands knowing that many of them do not have access to water
- Ordering citizens to stay home, particularly in cities, when many of them cannot eat if they do not leave their homes to do whatever it takes to earn something
- Asking people to quarantine knowing that they have no electricity to refrigerate perishable food and to follow news on devices which require electricity to function.
How did we get to this point? There are many obvious factors, chief among them is decades of bad governance which has, among other things, led to “brain drain” starting with Africa’s brightest minds migrating to countries where they can earn a meaningful living. Some of this bad governance is due to corruption, lack of transparency, accountability and lack of true oversight institutions to monitor and act when those governing bodies serve themselves instead of serving the nation. Furthermore, authoritarian regimes and those who have power have embezzled so much money, consequently depriving many African nations much needed investments in development sectors including education. Without education, there cannot be healthcare workers to care for the sick.
Where is hope? Probably countries in West Africa and Central Africa which experienced recent threats of the Ebola pandemic should take the lead in updating viral outbreak protocols which will help them respond to the Coronavirus. Drawing from what we have seen so far in developed countries, Africa’s lack of human and material resources is a serious challenge should the Coronavirus spread further.