In a continent where there are over 800 000 novel coronavirus infections and about 13 000 deaths, the challenge lies on all scientists, regardless of gender, to play a role in finding and rolling out a cure.
The growing interest by women scientists in researches that contribute to the global urge to find a vaccine and to understand the pandemic better have been hailed by governments.
As healthcare workers in the continent are at the forefront of the battle against the pandemic, it is common knowledge that a majority of nurses are women. A large number of the continent’s nurses have contracted the virus in the line of duty, placing the lives of their loved ones also at risk. They do not hold back their commitment to save lives, even in situations where governments would rather use finances elsewhere than buy personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers.
Countries, such as Ghana, which has availed incentives such as tax holidays and pay increases for nurses who at the frontline of the fights against the poandemic, have helped to boost the morale of health care workers.
As one of the critical aspects of finding a vaccine is conducting trials, scientists say that it is vital for Africa to take part in these trials, arguing that not doing so could jeopardise efforts to find a vaccine that works worldwide.
Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director John Nkengasong recently said hopes were high that the vaccine for COIVID-19 could be developed in Africa because the continent has manufacturing capabilities and capacity especially in countries such as South Africa, Tunisia, Egypt, Nigeria and Senegal.
Recently, the World Health Organisation published a report in which it was discovered that the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls is high. To qualify these findings, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa said women were disproportionately affected by lockdowns, resulting in a reduced access to health services.
COVID-19 has also taken a negative toll on the general health of women in the continent, most of who have since resorted to other means of finding treatment than presenting at health care facilities where there is shortage of staff and chances of being exposed to COVID-19.
“As efforts are focused on curbing the spread of COVID-19, essential services such as access to sexual reproductive health services have been disrupted. According to preliminary data, in Zimbabwe, the number of caesarean sections performed decreased by 42% between January and April 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. The number of live births in health facilities fell by 21% while new clients on combined birth control pills dropped by 90%. In Burundi, initial statistics show that births with skilled attendants fell to 4 749 in April 2020 from 30 826 in April 2019,” the WHO said.
It was also said the bulk responsibility of caring for the sick is borne by women, be it at home or in healthcare facilities. To add to this, the WHO also found that women were at the receiving end of domestic violence and financial worries during the lockdown period.
The World Bank recently said the infection in Africa would reach 110 million and that the existing gender inequalities would worsen as a result of the pandemic. It said the pandemic has adversely affected women’s income generating initiatives, especially given the fact that they form 58% of the continent’s self employed population.
At this point Africa needs dedicated women and men who are willing to sacrifice comfort to save the continent either though scientific means, health care, philanthrophy and skills development.