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COVID-19: Why Africa urgently needs an Ubuntu Plan BY Dr Victor Oladokun

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  • One virus has disrupted the whole world in a manner never seen before in history

Africa urgently needs a globally coordinated Ubuntu Plan in response to COVID-19, a fiscal stimulus that recognises our shared and connected humanity, as we find ourselves in the midst of an unprecedented crisis.

The world’s largest cities are eerily silent. One virus has disrupted the whole world in a manner never seen before in history.

COVID-19, a term that did not exist in our vocabulary a couple of months ago, has brought virtually everything to a grinding halt. It’s a surreal almost cinematic scene. Except that we are all living through it.

With governments balancing economies and the welfare of their citizens, entire industries and institutional systems find themselves fighting for survival in the midst of mandatory lockdowns. Food supply chains, transportation networks, educational systems, governance and judicial systems are either strained or barely functioning with medical services being the worst hit.

Unlike any other pandemic, COVID-19 will alter the way we live, work, and socialise.  The financial costs and the economic devastation are already of epic proportions. This is why Africa in particular urgently needs an Ubuntu Plan. A globally coordinated fiscal stimulus plan that recognises our shared and connected humanity.

The case for an Ubuntu Plan

This past week, America passed a 2 trillion Dollar stimulus package that will keep markets operational, support Americans out of work, and help reduce Federal Reserve lending rates. It is the largest bailout in the history of the United States. European economies likewise have announced stimulus measures in excess of 1 trillion Euros. Chinese factories are ramping up again, backed by a $344 billion stimulus package.

In contrast, Africa’s economies are already buckling. Global demand for oil and gas and commodity products – the mainstays of Africa’s leading economies – has stalled. Revenues which were already overextended have dried up and small, medium, and large enterprises are at risk of total collapse.

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Last Thursday, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimated that the pandemic could reduce the growth of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP) from 3.2% to 1.8% in 2020. On 27th March, The Secretary-General of the UN Antonio Guterres said: “Africa is a continent with very little capacity to respond and I am extremely worried that in those situations, we might have millions of cases with millions of people dying”.

Lockdowns are not equal

Even though the United States, Europe and many parts of Asia are better suited economically and infrastructurally to a lockdown, they are struggling to cope with the burden of this sudden pandemic. A situation that will likely be worsened by the duration and unpredictability of the pandemic.

If these societies are struggling, the impact on Africa is best imagined.

Prior to the crisis, 41% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population lived on less than $1.90 a day which is very little to survive on. Seven out of ten persons (70%) in Africa are in vulnerable and precarious forms of informal employment eking their living on a daily basis. Lockdown, homeworking and teleconferencing is therefore not an option. Family support systems from blue and white-collar workers and the diaspora, are themselves under threat. Job losses will strain these critical informal support systems to breaking points.

In Africa, formal social safety nets rarely exist. Therefore, stockpiling food items for extended periods of isolation is out of consideration. Linked with this, Africa requires vast food supplies to meet the needs of the continent’s poorest who can barely afford a decent meal.

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Recent cyclones, Kenneth and Idai, and a  plague of locusts have already put considerable pressure on immediate food supplies for the continent.

Which is why an Ubuntu Plan is now critical in order to cushion the harsh social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa. Such a plan would include a fiscal stimulus package, the development of critical infrastructure and support for the continent’s most vulnerable populations.

The fact is that in the 21st century, clean water supplies and access to electricity are the stuff of dreams for millions of Africans. Globally, almost 800 million people are without access to clean water. Of these, 40% live in sub-Saharan Africa.  The simple act of handwashing which the pandemic requires for prevention is still not possible for millions. Linked with this, less than 58% of Africa’s population has access to modern healthcare facilities.

A race against time

Africa and its partners have already been striving hard to tackle the challenge of eradicating poverty with measures such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and the African Development Bank’s High5 strategy.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, shines the spotlight on Africa’s poor healthcare delivery systems and facilities and its vast challenges. Africa has one of the highest population densities in the world. For people living in tens of thousands of informal settlements, the idea of social distancing is inconceivable. Millions of vulnerable low-income people live in cramped communal houses and rooms and in areas that lack basic amenities, especially water and sanitation.

In the short term, to effectively combat COVID-19, we urgently need self-testing kits, personal protective equipment (PPEs), makeshift living spaces and hospitals, recovery units and inexpensive easy-to-operate ventilators.

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already issued a ten-point strategy that calls for the creation of corridors on the continent to facilitate emergency deployments and material shipments.  The plan also calls on governments and the private sector to help increase supplies, medical equipment and care, and to strengthen surveillance and public awareness, in order to prevent continent-wide community transmission.

In the short window available, global cooperation is imperative.

The African Union’s Vision Agenda 2063 and action plan states among other things, that “We are part of the global drive through the United Nations and other multilateral organisations to find multi-lateral approaches to humanity’s most pressing concerns including human security and peace, the eradication of poverty, hunger and disease …”

Rethinking the future

In the mid to long term, we must urgently rethink social life, urban and rural planning and our budgetary priorities, if life is to be preserved. We must decongest informal settlements rapidly and in their place develop affordable housing that is suitable for isolation and quarantine, in the event of future pandemics.

There is no better time for a globally coordinated Ubuntu Plan. To stop the global spread of COVID-19 and its global devastation, it must be stopped in Africa. The world must pay attention and lend a helping hand by strengthening global cooperation, now more than ever before.

Ubuntu – The preservation of human dignity, health, lives and wellbeing, demands nothing less.

– Dr Victor Oladokun is the outgoing Director of Communication & External Relations at the African Development Bank Group

 

Coronavirus

Monkeys attack lab assistant, escape with COVID-19 samples

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A gang of monkeys attacked a laboratory assistant and escaped with a batch of coronavirus test samples, it has been reported.

The bizarre incident saw the troop of primates launch their assault near Meerut Medical College in Delhi, India.

According to local media, the animals then snatched COVID-19 test samples from three patients and fled.

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One of the monkeys was later spotted in a tree chewing one of the sample collection kits, the Times of India reported – adding that test samples from the patients had to be taken again.

It is the latest example of the highly intelligent, red-faced rhesus macaques taking advantage of India’s nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus.

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While they have proved an increasing problem in urban areas of the country in recent years, lockdown measures in the last two months have emboldened the monkeys.

Reports have shown them congregating in parts of Delhi normally crowded with humans.

The Nation

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Covid-19: Uganda records 36 new cases toll now 317

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Covid-19: Uganda records 36 new cases toll now 317

Uganda has recorded 36 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of infections to 317, the country’s Health Ministry said late Thursday.

Out of the 2,230 samples collected from cross-border cargo truck drivers and communities, 24 Ugandan truck drivers and 12 close contacts of previously confirmed cases under quarantine tested positive for the virus, the ministry said in a statement.

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Twenty-six foreign truck drivers, who tested positive at the country’s common border entry points, were handed over to their country of origin, it said.

Out of the 317 COVID-19 cases, 69 have recovered and no one has died of the respiratory disease in the country, according to the health ministry.

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FG to use hotels, schools as quarantine, isolation centres

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Covid-19: Prepare for the worst- FG tells Nigerians

The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said the Federal Government would require hotels and school dormitories as quarantine and isolation centres because of a shortage of hospital beds.

The minister noted that there were four levels of COVID-19 patients ranging from those on quarantine with zero or mild symptoms to those that would need to be in the intensive care unit.

The minister said,

“We have sadly recorded 254 deaths, most of them are persons associated with other ailments, confirming the general observation that risks are higher for those with illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes and non-communicable diseases.

“We need to continue increasing bed capacity to match the probable number of patients, so that we do not experience horrific scenes of bed space shortages seen in some European hospitals.

“In event of overflow, we can require hotels and school dormitories to be prepared for level 1 which is quarantine, and level 2, is isolation of COVID-19 positive with zero or mild symptoms, to free hospital beds to be dedicated to level 3 which are moderate to severe cases and level 4 which is for the high dependency and the intensive care unit.

“I, therefore, call on activists and philanthropists to work with state governments to scale up non-pharmaceutical measures and beef up infrastructural assets for isolation and treatment in their states.”

Ehanire said Nigeria would review its participation in the World Health Organisation solidarity trial. He also stated that proposals for trial of local remedies for COVID-19 had been sent to the relevant research and testing agencies for scientific evaluation.

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He stated,

“The Madagascar herbs have been received at the Ministry of Health, and were found to consist of two varieties; one labelled to be for prevention and the other for treatment. Samples have been given to three agencies of the Ministry of Health and also to the Ministry of Science and Technology.

“These are normal processes for new preparations to be approved for use in Nigeria, and include toxicological and efficacy tests and clinical trials. Government will investigate all genuine efforts to find homegrown solutions to the pandemic.”

The minister said Madagascar’s drugs had been sent to NAFDAC, National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development, and the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research.

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