Last year, US billionaire philanthropist and founder of Microsoft Bill Gates was condemned by many for racist stereotypes of helplessness in Africa, after warning that the coronavirus pandemic could overwhelm public health services on the continent and lead to 10 million deaths. And because the pandemic could bypass the continent, Western media’s confusion as to why Afrikaners did not die at the rate that Americans and Europeans did and why the expected biblical scenes of blacks plagued by plagues did not materialize.
However, as deaths from COVID-19 increase in Africa, and with access to vaccines for many that appear to be a lie, many of the same doomsday scenarios and attendant implications of Africans being powerless to resist their fate are heard again. Only this time it seems that Afrikaners themselves are selling the story.
Just last week, in an article published in Nature, Dr Mosoka Fallah, Deputy Director of Technical Services at the National Public Health Institute of Liberia, said: “Mass deaths due to COVID-19 have started in Africa “and” the affluent world must rally or countries will collapse in Africa “.
In a moving article on his family’s battle with COVID-19, Larry Madowo, a newly appointed international correspondent for CNN from Kenya, reveals how he lost his uncle to the disease and how his heart sank every time he received a call from home, where his grandmother was on a fan.
“Even at 96,” he wrote, “my Kenyan grandmother was among the hundreds of millions in the developing world who were only recently vaccinated because rich nations collected the most available shots.” He noted that even in places like Rwanda, where strict social distance regulations and masking regulations have been applied, lock-ups and tenets are still a reality “because only vaccines offer real protection”.
It is undeniable that Africa is facing a difficult time and that the continent is in many ways unprepared for what is coming at almost every level. With just over 1 percent of the vaccinated population, insufficient specialized facilities such as ICU beds or oxygen plants, and with a higher mortality rate among the seriously ill than the world average, the continent is indeed staring into the abyss. However, the situation is far from hopeless.
Vaccines are undoubtedly the best protection communities can get, significantly reducing the chances of serious illness, hospitalization and death. But as experience has shown, even in the rich West, it is not a silver bullet. And without universal vaccination, not just in some regions but all over the world, it would not be a substitute for other measures to combat the disease, such as masking and social distance.
In 1990, Dr James Reason of the University of Manchester introduced the ‘Swiss cheese model’ for the cause of accidents. In the model, defense is presented as a series of obstacles. However, every barrier is not perfect and has unintended weaknesses or ‘holes’ – so it looks like a slice of Swiss cheese. These holes can sometimes allow an error or danger, such as a virus, to pass through. However, if you place additional layers of defense (or slices of cheese) in the system, you reduce the likelihood that these holes will line up so that the danger can reach the individual.
In this modeling, COVID-19 vaccines are only the last slice of cheese, not a substitute for all the slices that have occurred, which include public information, testing, contact detection and isolation, as well as hand washing, social distance and masking. African countries may not have vaccines, but many do have the ability and experience to set up many of the other cuts, thus providing a significant degree of protection to their citizens, even if they are trying to procure vaccines. They are not helpless or are simply looking at the benevolence of white saviors.
The West has behaved disgustingly when it comes to the issue of providing vaccines, picking up supplies it does not need for people who do not want them and deliberately denying them to those who want and need them. Even if they donated vaccines, like the British this week, it was sometimes stock that was so close to expiration that proliferation restrictions could render it useless. The director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, expressed concern that this could lead to a narrative “that vaccines were donated and that they were not used”.
“The shyness of Western involvement in administering vaccines to the developing world was just awful,” Howard French said in an interview with the Brookings Institution, noting that even the billion doses offered by the G7 are down. in the bucket, given seven billion of the eight billion people on the planet living in the ‘developing world’.
Kenyan writer, political analyst and activist Nanjala Nyabola also took note of the ‘dependency dynamics’ the West is causing, denying African countries the opportunity to buy fair vaccines and refusing to renounce the agreement on trade-related aspects. of Intellectual Property Rights so that developed countries can produce their own vaccines.
However, embarrassing the rich to behave better has never been a strategy that yields quick results. It may be better to hold African governments, such as Kenya, accountable for the lack of effective preparation of their people for the fight against the virus. Across the continent, states have adopted a top-down securitized approach in which the police have been used rather than medics rather than a brutal pandemic response, which is very alienating.
In Kenya, until recently, the talk of hand hygiene, masking and social distance has almost disappeared, as the government has apparently focused on the search for vaccines. But just this week, as the Delta variant threatens to overtake the health care system, the government announced a new set of restrictions, extending the curfew rule and banning public gatherings and physical meetings.
Yet the behavior of many governments across the continent has left much to be desired. In western Kenya, the Delta variant is causing havoc, helped in part by a bad public function held by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his former nemesis Raila Odinga in early June. The fidelity of the statistics on infections, hospitalizations and deaths released by the Ministry of Health is being questioned, COVID-19 response funds have been looted and the vaccination attempt has apparently been held hostage for battles between “tenderpreneurs” for lucrative contracts.
Even in the face of vaccine apartheid, Africa is no longer the ‘hopeless continent’ of the Western imagination. The people and governments of the continent can do much to prevent the ghost of massive misery and death, even in the absence of vaccines and liability, rather than charity, perhaps the best way out of the pandemic on the continent.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Al Jazeera.