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Coronavirus pandemic as Africa’s finest hour

The coronavirus pandemic is no longer a disease far from Africa but a reality transmitting rapidly within the continent on a daily basis. Sadly, this Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-COV-2) does not differentiate between the rich, the poor, and sex, race or religion creeds. It is a killer disease that is now part of our realities as global citizens.  Pandemics such as this have been a recurring episode in human history but Covid-19 is arguably the most feared, dangerous and novel of all that I know in our contemporary period that has locked down all people of the world and their governments and killing people every second.

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread globally especially in African continent, I have keenly watched how the governments of these nations try to halt the spread of this deadly disease. From South Africa, Egypt, Ghana, Rwanda, Lesotho, Togo, Tunisia, Tanzania, Nigeria just to mention but a few the approach of curtailing it is similar. Currently in all of the African countries where COVID-19 has been discovered, according to World Health Organization; total confirmed coronavirus cases as at 20:50 GMT, 6th of April, 2020 is 9,867, recovered figure put at 947 while total death stands at 482.

In all of these countries aforementioned above and the ones not captured, it appears that they all have a common copied template from the western world being used to tackle this pandemic disease.  At least, I am abreast of how the various levels how the government of Nigeria and other tiers of government – Federal,  state government and local government  have developed similar emergency COVID-19 response and most pointedly, their current efforts at raising billions of naira in a bid to make this notorious disease a history in Nigeria. And one cannot but pray that those funds raised and those that will be subsequently donated would not end in private pockets.

However, if there is one thing that the current pandemic has done especially in Africa and particularly in Nigeria, is that it has exposed the many years of lies, governance flop, degeneracy and wickedness of both the past and the current proximate political actors especially in Nigeria’s “diseased” health sector.

Currently, for instance, few private sector players, even struggling and altruistic citizens and some politicians have donated to the federal government and some state governments coffer some huge amount of money. In addition, only two days ago, the federal government of Nigeria announced that she would need the approval of the National Assembly to spend a whopping sum of N500 billion to fix the nation’s health sector and also to fight this epidemic. Not only that, President Buhari also is ready to withdraw $150 million from the National Sovereign Funds to halt this epidemic. This is besides, other support in terms of expertise knowledge and material resources that have started rolling in high net worth individuals, NGOs, local companies and religious organisations – a sector that some Nigerians opine is not only ecclesial but enterprising with wealthy General Overseers.

 

In the words of Nigeria’s Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), “these are tough times, but they are also good times. This (coronavirus) crisis, we shouldn’t waste it. It’s bad enough to have a crisis, but it’s unforgiveable to waste one. So, for me, this crisis may produce Nigeria’s finest hour if we put (Nigeria’s best human) capital (and resources) to use.” This is exactly the crux of this article. How can Nigeria, the self-acclaimed giant of Africa and the economic power house of the continent seize the opportunities inherent in this epidemic brouhaha? This should lead to investment and commitment of huge material resources in science and research to finding a medicinal solution to this ravaging virus. Nigeria is a country abundantly blessed with sound brains spread over the world in different industries including science and research, ICT, engineering just to mention but a few. How can we lead other Africa nations and stop waiting for the West to proffer solutions in terms of drugs that will combat this scourge?”

In other climes, governments, researchers, scientist’s even investors are currently busy finding medical solutions to the current pandemic by carrying out clinical trials of various drugs that can heal anyone infected with coronavirus. On the contrary, African government are not looking inwards but waiting cap in hands for western nations to come out with a global solution. From my entrepreneurial paradigm, the potential market for COVID -19 is huge and any country or company that develops a medicinal solution to fight it will not only smile to the bank but have posterity to judge her fairly in many years to come.

Like the Asian countries, Africa is blessed with herbs and the current renaissance in traditional medicine industry with many educated folks in that sector, African governments need to strategically explore this option. We know the claim of the west that this sector does not have a proven scientific proofs and that practitioners in traditional medicine do not have laboratory procedures to lay claim to any solution but must we wait for western validations even if we are sure of proffering solutions via our most cherished and time proven herbology? African Traditional Medics from time immemorial have consistently used medicinal plants for human treatments through much of human history. Luckily, this industry has attracted educated folks who now adopt some basic scientific procedures for clinical solutions. Why can’t African government think about this logic and internalise western ways in synergy with herbology to shine at this period of our history.

The billions of naira for instance being donated in Nigeria by proximate private sector players can be channelled into research and science in our herbs while we also use parts of these funds to revitalise our diseased health sector coordinated by the private sector similar to what happens in other African countries. In my opinion, it is time for African nations not only to subject the scientific claims of the western world to Afrocentric logic but to commit funds to support research in herbology that can lead to the discovery of a medicinal solution to the ranging pandemic. After all, from my little research, chemical compounds in plants mediate their effects on the human body by binding to receptor molecules present in the body; such processes are identical to those already well understood for conventional drugs and as such herbal medicines do not differ greatly from conventional drugs and  how they work. This enables herbal medicines to be in principle just as effective as conventional medicines. Therefore, if the political leadership of the second-largest and second most populated continent in the world can look beyond the threats that characterised COVID-19 pandemic, it may be Africa’s finest hour to shine!

Femi Ojo is a Nigerian media communications expert, blogger, researcher and serial entrepreneur, who lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

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