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Focusing on basics can save us from coronavirus pandemic

By Alberto Leny
Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is sending shockwaves across the globe as the caseload and death toll rise alarmingly.

This state of affairs begs the big question facing governments, science and humanity: What next in the fight against COVID-19?

Coronavirus has hit humanity hard, dealing a heavy blow to lives and livelihoods across the world. Health and economies have received a devastating direct hit.

For millions in Kenya and elsewhere, the virus has left families wondering how they will put food on the table while abiding by the stringent measures to curb the pandemic.

How best can we collectively tackle the war against coronavirus? Efforts instituted so far, amid soaring statistics, indicate social distancing and a lockdown are effective in slowing infections.

The war is far from being won. All countries face the daunting prospect of containing the spread of the virus at the cost of bringing society and economy to a standstill.

Glaring global economic inequities show the informal sector dominates African countries’ economies, accounting for 90 per cent of all non-agricultural jobs and about 50 per cent of GDP. 

Measures to stem the spread of coronavirus reveals their huge populations’ reliance on day-to-day, hand-to-mouth, cash-based commerce for survival, livelihoods and trade.

It is unrealistic to expect this majority to practice social distancing and stay inside their houses for long periods. Enforcement could cause a socio-economic double jeopardy.

World Health Organisation Director-General Adhanom Ghebreyesus and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva captured the contentious scenario wrought by Covid-19 in an Op-ed published in The Telegraph: “At face value there is a trade-off to make: either save lives or livelihoods. This is a false dilemma – getting the virus under control is, if anything, a prerequisite to saving livelihoods.

“Our joint appeal to policymakers, especially in emerging markets and developing economies, is to recognise that protecting public health and putting people back to work go hand-in-hand.”

Kenya must appreciate this naked truth in the war against coronavirus. Public health experts caution us to be wary of conspiracy theories. There will always be politics, religious, economic and social interest in any decision, declaration and/or action by government, scientists or commentators. 

Epidemiological studies show 60 per cent of diseases such as coronavirus come from animals, but this is virulent (like an engineered one) and mutates just like the HIV virus. Scientists say coronavirus has already mutated eight times; hence, it will be difficult to produce a vaccine now or in 18 months.

The push for vaccines is an economic rather than a public health good. When masks, proper hygiene and social distancing can reduce transmission to almost zero, why then use vaccine in an outbreak? 

We need to focus on the basics of ‘5 Cleans’ - clean our hands, bodies, clothes, equipment or tools and spaces - because our friends, the bacteria, are facilitating their transportation.

Experts fear a resurgence because people treated can be reinfected. Therefore, we have to live differently than usual. The Farr epidemic curve is always there or very likely to recur.

In 1840, William Farr submitted a letter to the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriage in England in which he applied mathematics to the records of deaths. 

He showed that during the smallpox epidemic, a plot of the number of deaths per quarter followed a roughly bell-shaped or “normal curve” and that recent epidemics of other diseases had followed a similar pattern. Beware coronavirus is following that pattern. [email protected]

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