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Africa and the COVID-19 Vaccine – By Dakuku Peterside

Opinion

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The year 2020 will forever be synonymous with Covid-19, a pandemic that brought the world to her knees. For the first time in more than a generation, the world confronted and still confronts a novel coronavirus, a monstrous pestilence that defied technology and innovation. Millions of people are infected, and hundreds of thousands killed in both the rich and the emerging countries. The infection is rampaging through communities, and in some places, the health infrastructure is overwhelmed. The fight to confront and win the battle against COVID-19 is on and progressing, but the impact of these sophisticated medical advances is yet to be felt adequately.

Covid-19 is a real terror upon humanity. Communities shut down periodically, people avoid their family and friends, and in some cases are mandated by law to keep physical and social distances from one another. Events and large gatherings are postponed indefinitely or cancelled. Practically everyone wears a mask in public, or at least, is expected to do so. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, almost a quarter of the entire human population was on lockdown.

The economic impact has been devastating. The Covid-19 pandemic is a global shock ‘like no other’, involving simultaneous disruptions to both supply and demand in an interconnected world economy. On the supply side, infections reduce labour supply and productivity, while lockdowns, business closures, and social distancing also caused supply disruptions. On the demand side, layoffs, and the loss of income (from morbidity, quarantines, and unemployment) and worsened economic prospects reduced household consumption and firms’ investment.

Africa received the worst prediction concerning the Covid-19 pandemic. As hospitals across Europe and America were overwhelmed by Covid-19 and people died in tens of thousands despite their advanced medical facilities, there were genuine concerns about what would have happened to Africa if and when the novel coronavirus arrived on its shores. The African continent is known for dilapidated or non-existent healthcare facilities. Consequently, there were predictions of tens of millions of hospitalisations and millions of deaths in the continent.

For the fact that most of the continent adopted several measures like lockdowns to curtail the spread of Covid-9, Africa, like the rest of the world, was not spared the economic effects of the pandemic. But on the health and mortality angle, how exactly Africa was able to avoid the worst aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic has continued to be a subject of debate. Some scientists have attributed the lower hospitalisation and death rate to Africa’s younger demographics and lower comorbidity overall. Others have speculated that the consistent exposure of sub-Saharan Africans to malaria-treating drugs like Chloroquine has made so many people immune to Covid-19 as Hydroxyl chloroquine is one of the medications recommended by some doctors for the prevention and treatment of Covid-19.

Other unscientific speculations abound. For example, some argue that the hot, humid weather in Africa makes life very uncomfortable for the virus that causes Covid-19. Another one claims that most Africans have known acute suffering most of their lives that they have an inbuilt resistance to the novel Coronavirus, unlike their ‘more brittle’ counterparts in Europe and North America.

Whatever it is, it is undeniable that the continent of Africa has mostly been spared the worst impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. At least for now. Africa, with a population of about 1.3 billion, has seen just under 2 million Covid-19 cases recorded so far and much fewer deaths (about 46,626) compared to Europe (about 325,899) or the North Americas (about 252,235).

The worst of the Covid-19 pandemic is, hopefully, behind Africa. As the cold weather in much of Europe and America leads most people to stay indoors, leading to record levels of infections and deaths and with another wave of lockdowns disrupting social life and economic activities, most of Africa seem to have moved beyond Covid-19.

In Nigeria, religious and social activities have mostly resumed, and most institutions and organisations are not as strict as earlier in enforcing health and safety measures like wearing of masks, washing of hands and the use of hand sanitiser at their offices and business premises. Walking in the streets of most African cities (Nigeria as well) today, one could see many people not wearing masks, in contrast to the situation about six months ago when not wearing a mask was a taboo.

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