…Africa’s scientists and health officials must be fully involved in global race to find a vaccine and lasting solutions.
By Nthabiseng Mokake
The month of May is Africa Month. This is a time when together as Africans we reflect on our journey towards self-determination. Taking stock of our past, the mountains we have climbed, obstacles we face and overcome, whilst at the same time together we forge the future of the Africa we want.
The year 2020 presents an even more formidable obstacle for our well-being as Africans. And now more than ever we are compelled to unite and work together to secure a great future for ourselves and generations to come.As the novel coronavirus continues to take a heavy toll on human life and people’s health whilst wreaking untold havoc on the global economy, the world is looking to Africa’s scientists and their counterparts around the world, to lead the way in the race to stop the spread of the deadly virus and find a lasting solution to the ordeal of unprecedented proportions.
In the wake of global action to stem the tide of disease spread by the COVID-19 virus, science holds the key to find a vaccine and other interventions that will save lives and ensure protection of all citizens of the world against the onslaught of an enemy that knows no boundaries, social standing or race. Whilst African governments, the private sectors, donor community and other key stakeholders are collaborating in efforts to provide effective safety nets of various forms and avoid a complete shutdown of economies, it is to scientific research, specifically immunology, and the development of a vaccine that the world is turning for interventions that will close the door to this deadly virus. Over time, Africa has reached important milestones in the understanding of basic immunology, which is essential for public health interventions through the discovery of new and more effective diagnostics and treatments to manage a wide array of diseases – both emerging and existing.
Whilst, in comparison to our counterparts across the Atlantic, in Europe and Asia, the coronavirus pandemic is relatively still in its early stages in Africa, our scientists and health practitioners have immersed themselves unreservedly into the global collaboration against COVID-19. Africa’s scientists are well aware that given the challenges of infrastructure and access to health care facilities in many African countries, if the spread of the virus can take a similar trajectory as it has done in some of the developed countries, the impact would be more catastrophic. Hence with the support of African governments and the World Health Organisation (WHO) our scientists, from Cape to Cairo, continue to make a sterling contribution to the global collaboration against COVID-19, by among other things, drawing from their lived experiences fighting other diseases and pandemics visited upon our continent; such as TB, Ebola and Malaria. They are also sharing knowledge with counterparts around the world on how to adapt existing technology and systems and apply data to fight these diseases, to deal with COVID-19.
In South Africa, for instance, our scientists and health officials continue to make great progress in COVID-19 testing through the utilisation of infrastructure and laboratories that were put in place as part of the response to HIV and AIDS. The WHO has said that increasing testing of people is one of the most important ways of combating the spread of COVID-19. Our government also places great importance in involving scientists, health practitioners and key stakeholders in our multi-disciplinary response to COVID-19. The National Command Unit led by President Cyril Ramaphosa and coordinated by Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize, has roped in a team of highly knowledgeable professionals to provide guidance and mobilise the response against COVID-19.
I concur with the Director of the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases at Redeemer’s University in Nigeria, Christian Happi, that Africa may, technically, not be better prepared for the outbreak of COVID and its attendant impact that it’s counterparts elsewhere in the world. But the silver lining is that when it comes to understanding diseases and combating outbreaks with limited resources, characterised by lack of critical care infrastructure, Africa is much better prepared as our countries deal with outbreaks constantly.
As we commemorate Africa Month, our countries must pull out all the stops to stop the spread of COVID-19. It is upon each individual person to take responsibility to act in a proper manner. A good place to start is for one to acquire accurate knowledge and basic facts about the disease and how it is spread. Thereafter, each person should take it upon themselves to inform others and raise awareness in their family, community and country.