About two months ago, epidemiologists and other health experts made public their predictive analyses and algorithms which sounded loud warnings that the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic would be particularly harsh on Africa.
Sadly, how right they were.
The continent is home to some of the fastest rises in infection rates, and the deaths are mounting.
And even with all the evidence staring us in the face, we continued – and continue – to have large numbers of people who do not believe in the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and the importance of practising the basics of public health despite them being echoed repeatedly for more than a year now.
Truth is, too many dropped their guard as early as the first wave around this time last year, and we are reaping the harvest of thorns from the field of complacency and premature victory celebrations over the pandemic.
It is something that we at The Southern Times have written about before, and we shall continue to do so for as long as people do not appreciate the existential nature of the threat facing us.
There was a real panic when COVID-19 first came to our shores in early 2020, then came the relaxation, and now is the disaster.
It is what is called a “panic-and-forget” cycle.
Across Southern Africa, governments are implementing strict lockdowns and getting tough on enforcing public health regulations.
In the DRC, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe – among others – governments are grappling with a surge that has come with thousands of new infections per day and hundreds of deaths.
But we should not have to wait for things to reach crisis proportions for tough action to be contain to confront the novel coronavirus.
Painful, inconvenient and stressful as it is, we need to remain true to the basics that sent us into the initial panic in March 2020 and ensured that the first wave of the pandemic was not as devastating as the subsequent ones.
We all know what we have to do and must be doing. But we are either not doing these things at all, or merely doing the bare minimum that we incorrectly think will suffice, such as putting on a mask only when seeking to enter a supermarket.
Reports and pictorial and video evidence all show that restrictions on attendance at funerals and church gatherings are being routinely ignored, and drinkers of alcohol are gathering in crowded bars in complete defiance of regulations.
We must thus belabour the point and reiterate the basics that we must all adhere to:
- Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub, or wash them with soap and water;
- Maintain at least one metre distance between yourself and others;
- Avoid going to crowded places;
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth;
- Cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze, dispose of used tissue immediately, and clean your hands afterwards as recommended above;
- Stay home and self-isolate even with minor symptoms such as cough,
- headache, and mild fever. If you need to leave your house, wear a mask;
- If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention. Telephone in advance if possible and follow the directions of health experts; and
- Keep up to date on the latest information from trusted sources.
In addition to all of these things, people must go and get vaccinated.
This nonsense of disinformation, misinformation and fear-mongering must be thoroughly combatted so that people go and get vaccinated.
Governments and all stakeholders must go all out to fight this infodemic that is dissuading people from taking up COVID-19 vaccines and choosing instead to die in ignorance.
And it fighting the infodemic is not just the responsibility of governments and NGOs. Anyone who is concerned about the health and safety of their family and community should play an active part in his or her small circle to correct inaccurate claims about vaccines.
What this also means is that governments must do all they can to acquire more vaccines.
Yes, rich countries are hoarding vaccines to the detriment of facilities such as COVAX. But that does not mean we should sit, wring our hands and weep.
This is where innovation, dedication and sacrifice of leaders will be seen.
We have seen how some governments have been splurging on new cars and other trinkets during the pandemic. Why can’t that money spent on luxuries be redirected to public health necessities at this crucial moment in our history as humanity?
Also, governments must have learnt by now to deliberately plan public health systems with long-term views that go beyond merely setting aside a budgetary allocation every year and thinking that is sufficient.
Robust public health systems require holistic approaches that go beyond simply financing health ministries on an annual basis. They demand integration of public health into national development policy formulation and implementation.
Africa need sustained, holistic planning and financing of healthcare.
We must ask ourselves where our public health systems will be a year from now? Will we have learnt anything from the first three waves of the pandemic? Will our public health systems be more robust?
Or will we still be crying for donations and the goodwill of countries that have their own problems to deal with and their own national interests to pursue?
Will we have once more panicked and forgotten?