The Unfettered Reality: Africa And The Coronapocalypse

A map showing the distribution of coronavirus virus in Africa and the world

“Boris Johnson was tested positive for the Covid-19.”

“Prince Charles has been tested positive for the coronavirus.”

“Italy’s death toll tops 12,000.”

Shivers run through my veins as I watch the news channel broadcast these headlines. “If these people and nations can be affected this much, then, there’s no hope for me. I give up, already,” I say to myself.

Now, I’m a Nigerian resident in the seventh most populous nation in the world. Nigeria is also Africa’s largest economy and the giant of Africa. So we call ourselves. I gave this piece of information so that you, my reader will know that we’re an important player not just in the Sub-Saharan region but the whole of Africa.

Now back to the coronavirus pandemic: It’s been a tumultuous 3-month fight from when the outbreak began in Wuhan till this point that the epicentre has shifted to Italy. Although, Africa hasn’t been hit hard, – with South Africa being Africa’s worst hit nation with over 1300 infection cases and Nigeria with over 170 reported infected cases – in breaking the chain of transmission, Africa might be faced with a Gordian knot and could become the next epicentre in no-distant time.

And here’s why:

High Levels of Illiteracy

One-third of African youths between the ages of about 12 and 14 are out of school and the current tertiary enrolment rate across Africa is a little over 12%, according to UNESCO statistics. And there’s a great disparity in the distribution between the most educated and the worst educated nations, with Egypt’s tertiary enrolment at 33% and Niger’s at only 2%.

Last night, while watching CNN with my neighbours, I was amazed at how the couple jumped to conclusions. The newscaster could say, “Over 900,000 people…” and then they’ll complete the sentence “…have died from the coronavirus,” they wouldn’t bother to hear out the information. It was sickening for me to see how people misunderstand simple information. These neighbours of mine also filled my ears with lots of unfounded info based on hearsays.

Now, there’s a common saying that if you want to hide something from a black man, put it in a book. What this means for Africans is that we’re not interested in reading and verifying information for ourselves. We prefer words of mouth even from the most untrustworthy sources.

I know lots of city-dwellers that can’t correctly pronounce the ‘coronavirus’. And you’ll also be surprised to know that some rural communities aren’t aware of the Covid-19. Awareness in such places is poor and these people are very vulnerable to the pandemic.

Hunger and High Levels of Poverty

41% of Africans live under the poverty line of $1.90 per day and over half a billion people live under $3 a day, according to the World Bank.

Africa is a continent with high levels of unskilled and semi-skilled labour. People prefer to learn a trade or pick up vocational skills so they can be independent of the failed governments. Lots of people wake up daily not knowing what to eat, not because it’s difficult to make choices from their surplus foodstuff but because there’s no food to eat. These people have to go out daily to get daily bread for themselves and their families

In the case of a lockdown, these people will not be able to abide by the lockdown rules, especially since most African governments will find it difficult to support them with any form of a stimulus package.

While many people in developed nations are complaining of being bored as they’re under lockdown, most Africans are lamenting about how they can stock up on food for three days, not even a week. People struggling to feed won’t want to spend their money on sanitizers. Need I also add that the immune systems of symptomatic, malnourished patients will have a hard time defeating the virus.

In Africa, if the right measures are not taken, we might have the hunger epidemic killing people more than the coronavirus pandemic.

Corrupt and Inefficient Leadership

People say Africa is poor but I beg to differ. Nigeria, in particular, is very wealthy. We’re oil-dependent, the land is so fertile that if you discard almost any seed on the ground, it germinates within three days, the labour force is massive as its population is mostly youthful and we have a robust economy. What other wealth can we wish for?

Many African nations have what it takes to be called developed nations but their leadership’s greed is putting the lives of Africans at risk. Social injustice is the order of the day and we’re light years behind attaining a somewhat egalitarian society. While the political leaders are feeding fat, driving the latest posh cars and sending their children abroad to have the finest of education, the common man and taxpayers are finding it difficult to feed and afford basic education for their kids.

The government seems to be making only the wrong policies; ones that benefit their pockets and punishes the common man. In most African nations, there are no real government-funded research projects. We’re all depending on the white man to develop a vaccine.

The governments will impose lockdown regulations and expect people to stay at home but not provide electricity so people can stay digitally connected to their loved ones, work remotely, watch the news (and be updated on the Covid-19 development) or even use their fans and air-conditioning to provide some relief from the scorching heat.

There have also been reported cases of symptomatic people not being swiftly tested despite informing the CDC about it. These people have probably spread the virus to those close to them, and in turn, these new asymptomatic vectors further widen the scale of transmission.

Is there not enough money to ramp up testing in Africa? We leave the question to the politicians.

Lack of Information and Rumour Mongering (Fake News)

“The coronavirus can’t survive the high tropical temperatures. And it can’t affect the black man because of the herbs we consume daily,” says a man in a salon.

“Excuse me sir, but that’s wrong,” I say, “The coronavirus pandemic has already entered Nigeria. It was on the news yesterday.”

“That’s bullshit,” he curtly replies, “why are you acting like you don’t know your country? The government is only pushing that propaganda to allocate some funds which they’ll use to enrich their coffers.”

That was the conversation I had with a man last week. While he has a point there, it also shows how poorly informed he is.

My neighbour’s wife was also able to convince the other occupants of my house with a video showing many dead bodies being thrown into a pit. She claimed it happened in Italy but I refuted the video saying it was fake and that it probably happened a long time ago, not this period.

If I’m to award a nation the honorary award of fake news spreading, I’ll give the accolade to Nigeria. It’s what we enjoy doing; modifying and giving inaccurate information.” That’s why our last general election was tagged “WhatsApp Election” because people engaged in spreading false results and misinformation.

In Africa, there are so many false theories of how the coronavirus spreads, its risk factors, cure, and prevention. You see people wearing masks and gloves but can’t accurately tell you why they’re wearing those. Primarily because the government and the local media are not doing enough to sensitize the general populace, and so most people get their information from unverified and inaccurate gossips.

Other problems we’re bound to face are the cover-up and under-reporting of infection and death cases by the government to appear efficient in the eyes of the international community.

Poor Health Infrastructure

In the Central African Republic with an estimated population of 4.7 million people, they have only 3 ventilators and 100 testing kits. In 2009, there was only around 1 physician for every 20,000 persons. Nigeria with over 190 million people has less than 100 ventilators and South Africa, about 6000 ventilators.

The president of Nigeria who has been plagued with a recurring ailment has made it a trend to always jet off to the UK when he needs medical attention. African leaders. We saw the case with the past Algerian president – Abdelaziz Bouteflika. It’s a shame, really. Unfortunately, our leaders have no shame and that’s the narrative in many African nations. For a country not to have a single hospital capable of treating its leader or for the leader to lack faith in the healthcare infrastructure in his country, then woe betides the citizens of such a nation.

The basic reason the coronavirus is not widespread yet lies largely on the fact that only a few tests have been carried out. In countries with about 100 cases, there could well be over 2000 infection cases due to the mode of transmission in Africa.

In Nigeria, when people fall ill, they’ll be inclined to go to a drugstore and self-medicate instead of reaching out to a health expert. The reason being that, it’s expensive to consult a physician and the almost nonexistent health insurance covers a selected few. I believe that’s the narrative in at least 80% of the 54 African nations.

And with many of the African healthcare workers now plying their trade overseas, there are not enough medical personnel and personal protective equipment (PPE) for the available doctors and nurses on the frontline.
Even with the numbers of health experts and levels of technological advancements in healthcare in western countries, their governments are having a tumultuous time combating this warlike virus. What happens to Africans when the SARS-COV-2 becomes widespread? Another Black Death, maybe.

Poor hygiene

As easy as this phrase is, ‘wash your hands regularly,’ it’s actually a luxury for many African communities. And unfortunately in Africa, we have lots of finger foods and many people eat without washing their hands properly. A lot of people don’t also have access to running water. In my city, all the houses get their water from boreholes. And those without boreholes either have to fetch from their neighbors or buy water from distant commercial boreholes.

Furthermore, many Africans living in major cities live in squalid conditions that’ll make it very difficult to social-distance. You could have a group of three or more squatters living in one room. And then, there are also houses with only rooms like college dorms – locally called ‘Face-me-I-face-you’ in Nigeria. The occupants (not a single family) all share one kitchen, toilet, and bathroom. You can’t distance yourself socially in such places. If one person gets infected, the likelihood of everyone getting infected is almost inevitable.

All these factors outlined here can facilitate the widespread of the Covid-19 in Africa. Africa would still not be adequately prepared for this fight had this coronavirus pandemic surfaced in 10 years from now.

Please, I’ll like to know your thoughts in the comment section. Also, feel free to add any factor I failed to touch up on. And don’t forget to share this article. Many people need to read this.

Do check out this article where I detailed some inevitable consequences of the coronavirus outbreak and the activities that could be leveraged to cushion the effects.

Thanks for your time.

Nuelzy-pen reporting from Nigeria.

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