Time to Organise, not Agonise

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Guest Columnist: ISSA AREMU

By Issa Aremu
The global narrative of the cause and management of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19 is riddled with multiple meanings: they range from metaphysical to the scientific, the epistemological to the pedestrian, conspiratorial to the racist, the sobering to the hysterical, the political to the partisan.
It’s however time to organise our reactions in order to tame and damn the monster.

Many thanks to Kayode Komolafe for bringing to the fore the inherent lessons in the often ignored singular exceptional example of the Caribbean island of Cuba in public health at home and medical internationalism and solidarity. Cuba taught the world the beauty of collective efforts in confront pandemic no less in managing prosperity.

His article entitled “The Political Economy of COVID-19” of March 18, 2020, was a timely call to organise and confront the menace instead of agonising. The COVID-19 discourse is as infectious and virulent as the notorious virus.

First detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019, coronavirus (COVID-19) is truly stateless. It’s global. It’s classless and gender blind. It defies all human contrived walls namely Berlin/ Chinese/ Great Zimbabwe wall/ Donald Trump Walls/ Israel/ West Bank Border Walls.

As of March 20, 2020, over 240,000 have been infected in 148 countries. More than 10,000 had died across the world. About 88,000 recovered according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Nigeria’s timeline of the pandemic according to the Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) started in February 27 with a 44-year old Italian. He reportedly tested positive in Lagos but later tested twice negative.

He has since been discharged with one his contacts in Ogun who tested positive. With a new confirmed case in Abuja FCT yesterday, Nigeria parades as many as 40 confirmed cases, with the breakdown of cases by states as at 11:00 pm on the 23rd of March, 2020, showed that Lagos had 28, Abuja 7, Ogun 2, Ekiti 1, Oyo 1 and Edo 1 with the hope that we will stop counting.

With seemingly open headed updated list, we are certainly living in the age of an adversity occasioned by Coronavirus.
However as worrisome as it is, lest we forget: global pandemics are almost inevitable. Certainly they are unavoidable.
The Chinese who first bite the COVID-19 bullet (and who first commendably and successful confronted the Virus) have a saying that, “misfortune is not that which can be avoided, but that which cannot”.

Carl Edward Sagan, the late American astronomer, cosmologist, author and science popularizer is my favored author . In one of books, : Cosmos: THE STORY OF COSMIC EVOLUTION, SCIENCE AND CIVILIZATION, (1995) the popularizer of astronomy wrote that “We can lead a full life and never personally encounter a natural disaster more violent than a storm. And so we become complacent, relaxed, unconcerned. But in the history of Nature, the record is clear. Worlds have been devastated. Even we humans have achieved the dubious technical distinction of being able to make our own disasters, both intentionally and inadvertent. On the landscape of other planets where the records of the past have been preserved, there is abundant evidence of major catastrophes”. The point cannot be overstated that Coronavirus is the new link in human chain of afflictions.

Precisely because we were not there in 430 B.C.: we were not witnesses to the earliest recorded pandemic disease. It was during the so-called Peloponnesian War . The disease with symptoms such as “fever, thirst, bloody throat and tongue, red skin and lesions” reportedly flipped through Libya, Ethiopia and Egypt, “crossed the Athenian walls as the Spartans laid siege killing two-thirds of the population”.

Today Cholera outbreak is casually associated with economically backward poor countries of Africa. But the first Cholera pandemic originated from Russia not Africa! The small intestine infection in 1817 killed as many as one million people in Russia. Spreading through feces-infected water and food, the British colonial soldiers passed the bacterium to India and British colonies in Africa where millions died.

There was also the notorious Asian flu in 1957. It started in Hong Kong and spread to mainland China, then the United States and England claiming some 14,000 people lives. The second wave of Asian flu 1958 claimed about 1.1 million deaths globally, with 116,000 deaths in the United States alone. Just as vaccines were developed, effectively containing the both Cholera and Asian flu pandemics, it’s time adjust to the inevitability of Coronavirus and the possibility that it can and must be curtailed. Trouble the saying goes, “brings experience and experience brings wisdom”.

Unfortunately humanity failed momentarily experience-test since the outbreak of the new killer in town last year. In the global rat race of survival of fittest, all countries hardly pause to remember that ancient cholera, leprosy and tuberculosis pandemics were never region or race specific. Gain time, Gain life, goes another wisdom. A disease detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019 ought to have been globally contained.

American President Donald Trump at a point mischievously stopped referring to the disease for what it is: Coronavirus but a racist smear : the “China/ foreign virus.” Watching Donald Trump at last Saturday media briefing saying “can you believe that the disease is in 148 countries, confirms the truism that “adversity makes a man wise, not rich” ! It is sad that it takes an affliction for an American President to come out of his insular fortress mentality. I acknowledge and salute the Federal governments and states government for the measures so far to confront Corona Virus scourge.

However it could be better if some of the new current frenzy measures had preceded the spread. But certainly we did better than America and Italy. The current partnership between Federal and states government should be applied to confront malaria which in any case has a cure but still killed hundreds of thousands annually, road accidents which kill as many 40,000 annually !
Labour and capital and employers must partner to halt the spread of the virus at work places. Corona Virus shows that we must deepen Diversification of the economy, produce what we consume and consume what we produce.

All agencies must follow the example of CBN under Governor Godwin Emefiele which well before Coronavirus scourge “saw tomorrow”, stopped financing 43 items Nigeria can produce at home. Even if we are willing to import, today China has shut down teaching hard lesson in self reliance.
When this singular pandemic is over, global Solidarity/ Humanity award should go to Cuban revolutionary 53 doctors and nurses who on Thursday arrived in Lombardy, Italy to help the country contain the menace.

Karin Pettersson puts it better: “The situation demands personal responsibility, a sense of duty, concern for one’s neighbour. If you do not belong to a risk group, your responsibility is not so much to protect yourself but to take care to protect others, even if that pushes you towards personal discomforts.”
For now the best useful mantra to damn Coronavirus: Regularly Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or hand rub sanitizer. Maintain social distancing of at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth. Stay informed and follow advice given by public health authorities.

*Comrade Issa Aremu is a Member of the National Institute.