COVID-19: Challenges, Opportunities and Lessons

By Chudi Ukpabi PhD

Dateline: Amsterdam, Netherlands

In international relations and cooperation, it was believed that our greatest global existential threats were in military, poverty and inequality, nuclear technologies and weaponry, etc. But the tiny invincible Coronavirus emanating from Wuhan, China, suddenly flattened nations, international agents and institutions, global travels, infrastructures, workforce, industries, forcing everyone indoors.

In many countries, there were challenges with health systems during this period. Global co-operation was also tested. What are we learning? This is teaching us that the inability of governments and institutions globally to plan, build, and efficiently fund health systems worldwide is a major weakness that must be tackled.

The world needs public health systems with basic preventive measures, infrastructure, logistics, human skills, and knowledge, to manage a global pandemic. A global health crisis such as this can only be solved effectively when countries share resources and work together.

It is also teaching us that we failed to learn from other public health hazards like Ebola in Africa.

Interestingly, we are seeing a resilient and confident Africa, which did not have to be dependent on the West on tackling Covid-19. It is also interesting to see that Instead of Africa exporting the disease to the West, the virus was imported from the West to the continent. And so far, the continent has managed the health crisis fairly well.

At the start of the Coronavirus outbreak, African countries, with largely weak public healthcare systems, started to take early structured collective actions, which helped keep the infections low. National policy actions came with quick lockdowns when infections were in single, double ranges. Many African countries took wide-ranging basic public health care preventive measures and information awareness actions.

Instructions were given to citizens to keep safe, stay at home, wash hands, avoid the culture of mass burials and rituals, avoid public spaces, markets and family meetings, etc. School closures and government and private initiatives came into force. There was a local production of colorful facemasks, medical protection bio suits, hand sanitizing gel, affordable rapid test kits, and low-cost ventilators for hospitals.

Across cities and small towns, new local enterprises emerged introducing public hand-washing initiatives. This contributed positively to Coronavirus eradication and public healthcare education awareness campaigns.

Given the circumstance, Africa can take advantage of some opportunities post-COVID. In the West where tourism is big business, the Corona pandemic hit the industry badly and also affected airline businesses. This provides a chance for African countries to begin to explore national and regional focused tourism sectors, especially for those whose tourism destination was previously Western countries. This could be profitable to economies on the continent. Exploring tourism initiatives in Africa with innovative thinking will lead to the creation of sustainable, viable, inclusive, and profitable economies. The initial focus could be on generating packages for select groups covering the Diaspora, recreation, sports, food, lifestyle, and nature.

It is puzzling to see that in the West, there seems to be a return to old norms, with people anxious to resume global mass tourism, travels, the opening of hotels, restaurants, beaches, and theatres, even as the virus is still openly out there, with no vaccine or cure. In the Global South and Africa in particular, the situation is a little bit different. There is more caution especially because people are used to living in very challenging environments. The tendency now is to think of exploring new innovative opportunities, hence the excitement in seeing how the newly emerging “internet virtual communication” can be sustained, normalized, and institutionalized.

There’s talk of home-based work culture, in-patient-doctor public healthcare consultations especially for remote communities and villages, integration of virtual technology access in national education curriculums, and in local banking systems, farming systems, conferences, seminars, etc. While these are great initiatives, it remains to be seen how far they will go.

In conclusion, we are seeing that the old norms of life were not that great after all. Daily mental pressure, and stress arising from work, and the fast way of life had their effects on our lives. The “Stay At Home” measures have afforded us a chance to self-reflect, humble ourselves, pay tribute to millions who did not survive, and to explore ways of building new positive cultures.




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