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Friday, 12 February 2021

Support Dar’s Damascus moment

 

The Tanzanian homegrown approach to Covid-19 — a blend of defiance, local remedies and faith-fuelled Kinjeketile-type courage — has won grudging admiration from many Africans, including many who don’t subscribe to alternative approaches to medical matters.

Here was a country that had boldly assessed this virus and determined that the lockdowns and other interventions were not for them; that their best bet was to protect their economy and trust the hardy strength of their population.

Having a weak healthcare system has its silver lining. It builds a strong population with bodies able to fight off flus and other infectious diseases. There was a time when, in the poorer parts of Africa, parents would not dream of taking their boys to hospital over small complaints like pneumonia: A foul-smelling, general-purpose remedy would be shoved in their throats, the boys strangled for a brief period by their hardboiled mums to hold down the liquid, head butted to force the “medicine” down their throats, and a final kick in their dusty backsides to clear the fever and encourage them to rejoin the play outside.

Underlying this approach is the unspoken, ruthless calculation: We can’t afford the poor; they are dinner for the hyenas. This is not necessarily an African concept. Even in the developed world, when healthcare systems are overwhelmed, priority is given to those under 60 years.

Many diseases

If you are old and with many diseases, your viability becomes an issue in the decision whether to fight to save your life or not. It is a terrible situation since every life, even that of a person older than 100 years, is precious.

A video clip which has been making the rounds of Tanzania President John Magufuli asking editors to help the government spread the word that Covid-19 was a danger to Tanzanians and that all citizens must exercise caution has been discussed and dissected.

Many see it as a softening of approach in dealing with the virus, perhaps to more conventional methods of infection control. I have no expertise in the field but my theory is that if the virus was a static, unchanging organism, the herd immunity approach would have tamed it.

But viruses mutate. And the new versions are often more infectious and deadlier because they change to improve themselves. A control mechanism that allows pools of virus to remain in the population is risky as it allows new variants to erupt and reinfect the population, possibly including those who had developed some immunity against the earlier versions.

Eradicate the virus

Social distancing, sanitising and masking remain the best means of denying the virus new victims and killing it off. Vaccination reduces the development of serious symptoms and death as well as blocking infection. A combination of all these measures will eventually eradicate the virus.

Thus, the announcement by some Tanzanian leaders that they would refuse vaccination should be thoroughly re-examined, particularly in relation to those older and in poor health. In any case, vaccination is a voluntary affair. The government medical agencies should ensure the vaccines are available and safe.

Nobody can say for sure why death rates in Africa have been so low. A youthful population has certainly helped, so has a generally healthier, rural and too-poor-to fly-around population. But the fact is, in urban parts of Kenya, the enforcement of control measures has been more effective than in many parts of wealthy countries.

That picture of a masked Kenyan Defence minister Monicah Juma arriving in London surrounded by masked Kenyan officials but received by a British delegation without a mask in sight comes to mind.

In Kenya, the virus has slowed down appreciably since late last year. The positivity rate hovers between 3.8 and five per cent. Fatalities are way down, zero to seven for the past month or so; the number of patients in home isolation has halved since Christmas Day, so has the number of folks in hospital. Yesterday, there were 31 patients in ICU, 13 on ventilators.

We have to rediscover the draconian discipline by which we have lived for a year.

The de-emphasis of formal Covid care in Tanzania in preference for home remedies presents a challenging environment for the control of the virus, even if the decision were to be taken to begin testing, isolating and treating patients. From the stories making the rounds, some patients with serious symptoms and requiring oxygen therapy are receiving care at home; those lucky to have friends in the medical profession stand the best chance of care.

It is the responsibility of the media in Tanzania to answer President Magufuli’s call and vigorously put all their resources at the disposal of public education campaigns — and to do whatever else is necessary — to save lives and support society.

* * *

My warmest good wishes to all the love birds on Valentines Day. I thought of writing “How I fell in love: A personal odyssey” but thought better of it.

But I would be pushing my luck. Besides, my children would endlessly make fun of me; so, I will keep my story.

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