By Muyiwa Adetiba
Melinda Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave a grim and dire prediction concerning Africa at the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic.
She warned that Africa would be the most vulnerable of all the continents and expressed fear that health officials might end up picking dead bodies on the streets.
Her husband, the world famous philanthropist, was to later echo her sentiment. They should know. They have spent a considerable amount of their time and money in Africa trying to solve some of the continent’s chronic and lingering diseases. They have in the process, interacted with public officials at different levels.
They’ve also had ample time to assess the limitations of our health care facilities. They therefore have a first- hand knowledge of how prepared we are. In this, they will not be telling us anything we don’t know. We know how unprepared we are for any disease let alone a pandemic. We know the ratio of hospitals to our population; we know the ratio of doctors to our population; we know the size of our health budget to our population; we know how much of that paltry budget gets to critical areas and how much gets shared by ogas at the top.
So when COVID 19 hit China, Europe and the US, when these highly advanced countries started running out of hospital space, it was assumed we were going to be in trouble. Real trouble. We had neither the facilities, the money nor the discipline to combat so deadly and so contagious a virus. It seemed the predictions of the Gates would come to pass.
It’s been six months now since the index case came to Nigeria. Those six months have exposed the weaknesses inherent in the system. They have witnessed deceit, fraud, corruption, double standard and indiscipline at different levels. Unpalatable stories about the distributions of palliatives have come to the surface;less than edifying stories about the politics of testing have filtered out; embarrassing stories about the abuse of COVID 19 funds have swirled around.
Even whatever is available is at the behest of the rich and the connected. They are the ones who get tested, multiple times if possible. They are the ones who will always get bed space at the isolation centres no matter what. The majority of the people are relegated to self-help and native herbs.
On top of it all is the indifference among the rank and file; the denial of the seriousness of what we face. Each time I go out and see the scramble for transportation, I cringe. Each time I see people in clusters without face masks, I cringe. Each time I see the young do those things that young people do without any precaution, I cringe. Meanwhile, funerals, birthdays, weddings – all those social functions which represent our social lives, but which also represent high risk gatherings, – are gradually easing back. To many, the end of lockdown is a licence to get their normal lives back. Some even see COVID 19 as a hoax.
If we were to be rewarded for our inadequacies and irreverence in the handling of the virus, our situation should be worse than Brazil or US. We should by now be picking bodies up under the bridges, in dark corners and along the corridors of face- me -I -face -you apartments. But we are not. It is true that testing has been abysmally low.
But resultant deaths must have been very low too. If we were recording a thousand deaths per day like in the US, it would have shown. As they say, you can’t hide dead bodies. The puzzle then is why Africans are not dying like rats as predicted by some people. This has interested many scientists the world over. A recent study from Kenya however proffers some plausible answers. One answer is that Africans have always been exposed to thousands of pathogens in the family of coronavirus (over 40000, according to the study) and so have developed some kind of immunity. It is instructive that ‘the flu’– a coronavirus – doesn’t record the same fatality in Africa as it does in Europe and America. Another answer for some reason, is our acquired immunity against malaria. Another answer is Africa’s youthfulness relative to other continents.
Yet another probable answer is our environment which is not as ‘sterile’ as it is in Europe and has thus given us a natural immunity against viruses. But the real good news according to the study is that Africa has acquired herd immunity ahead of other continents and has levelled off judging from the antibody surveys done.
The surveys indicate that far more Africans have been infected with the Coronavirus and are now resistant to it. If true, and it’s a big if, the implication is that Africa can begin to carefully open up its economy while looking out for the aged and those with chronic illnesses.
But my own gut feeling is that God has a role to play in all of this. At the beginning of this pandemic, I used to pray for God to heal the land until it occurred to me that God was actually healing the land. Only it was not in the way I envisaged. The air is fresher and crisper in places where smog had taken over. Birds, together with land and sea animals – the other living inhabitants of the earth- have suddenly found themselves from available information, healthier, freer and more exuberant.
The depletion of the ozone layer has slowed considerably. Yes, God seems to have taken a year out to heal His land. It is instructive that the two biggest economies and the two main promoters of industrial pollution have been on their industrial knees for most of this year.
It is instructive that America, the world leader in science and technology, is disobeying science and -common sense- in such a childish, petulant and arrogant manner. It is as if God has hardened the heart of their Pharaoh so He could inflict some pain on them. So He could humble them. Meanwhile, Africa which has always been looted and ravaged by the rest of the world; Africa which has always been derided; Africa which was expected to be badly hit, is enjoying some divine reprieve from the pandemic and is likely to come out of this pandemic with the least casualty.
You could call this gut feeling a conspiracy theory. I don’t mind. It’s mine. After all, we are in a season of conspiracy theories – from Bill Gates to 5G to QAnon. And one of the chief promoters of conspiracy theories happens to be the so called leader of the free world.