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Calm Down About Coronavirus and Follow Africa’s Lead

Written by on March 19, 2020

Calm Down About Coronavirus and Follow Africa’s Lead

Europe – not Africa – is the current epicenter of the disease.

“Nigeria’s experience with Ebola in 2014 has prepared the country for outbreaks such as coronavirus.”

A hail Mary effort to delay the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. through “social distancing” and wholesale closing of schools, large events and major institutions has millions of people scrambling to adjust to a new and disturbing reality. The stated strategic objective of these measures is to prevent the healthcare system from becoming suddenly overwhelmed. But there are doubtless many individuals whose thoughts are less community-oriented and who, while looking out for self, are instead driven by a hope that they will somehow evade the reach of the pandemic entirely.

While it is sometimes difficult to find the space or opportunity to analyze the contradictions of the capitalist system while a crisis is unfolding, only a cursory observation of current circumstances reveals stark class-based disparities in lifestyle options.Executives and professionals have abandoned their offices and suites in favor of self-imposed quarantine using technology to conduct business as usual. In seclusion they believe they have a fighting chance of avoiding infection. 

“There are stark, class-based disparities in lifestyle options.”

Contrast the daily reality of the gentry with the circumstances of minimum wage and low-wage workers, and the contradictions are palpable. In supermarkets and big box stores around the country, cashiers, salesclerks, stock clerks, and maintenance crews find themselves drowning in oceans of crazed humanity, desperately buying everything in sight, and exposing store employees to potential infection at a level that would make epidemiologists swoon. To get their jobs done, these service workers have no technological or virtual options. The net effect is that the ruling and professional classes have opportunities to delay or avoid infection while (as usual) the poor are tossed to a rampaging virus as cannon fodder, or at least as a buffer.

It didn’t have to be this way. Just ask African healthcare professionals. While Donald Trump regards Africa as a wasteland, even he has had to confront the reality that Europe – not Africa – is the current epicenter of the disease. How did this happen? Africa is usually believed to be ground zero for horrible diseases. 

“Service workers have no technological or virtual options.”

CNN recently reported that African countries have been vigilant about preventing, tracking and containing infection. For example, when Nigeria’s second coronavirus sufferer was identified, it was quickly determined that he had been in contact with an Italian visitor. Health officials immediately traced and identified everyone who had been in contact with the visitor and placed them in isolation pending testing.

CNN reported: “Health officials told CNN that Nigeria’s experience with Ebola in 2014 has prepared the country for outbreaks such as coronavirus. NCDC director Chikwe Ihekweazu pointed to the speed with which Nigeria identified and confined the patient as a sign the country is prepared to deal with the outbreak. ‘The system worked. We identified this case, diagnosed and isolated within 48 hours of it entering the country,’ Ihekweazu said. In other countries like Iran and Italy for instance, by the time the first case had been confined, there was widespread contact.’ He added: ‘We successfully managed Ebola … and are currently managing Lassa fever. We have a strong team that is used to doing this.’”

Other measures in effect in various countries in Africa include: handwashing stations in the streets and at bus stops in Rwanda; a 120 bed quarantine center in Kenya; walk-in coronavirus testing centers in South Africa; mandatory temperature screening centers at the entrances of banks, office buildings and restaurants; health screening of visitors at airports; and various other measures.

What all of this demonstrates is that there are rational, systematic and scientific approaches to containmentthat need not involve the politically-motivated and media-induced mass hysteria and fear of the kind that we have witnessed in the U.S.It also leaves us to marvel about Africa’s scientific potential when it ultimately throws off its neo-colonial shackles and moves definitively toward continental unity and socialism.

“There are rational, systematic and scientific approaches to containment.”

Generating mass fear as a public health policy has yet other unintended consequences. When large percentages of the population become terrified of infection and desperate to avoid it, they turn away from their suffering neighbors instead of toward them to help them through the illness. We are at our best when we follow the example set by Jesus Christ himself, and while taking appropriate precautions, we minister to the sick without fear. We are at our worst when (as was the case when HIV first appeared) we treat victims as untouchables who we not only shun, but despise as though they are somehow responsible for their own suffering and also the risk they have created for those who are well. 

During this period concern and caution are certainly warranted, but irrational fear has no useful purpose. Africa has demonstrated that this disease can be fought calmly and effectively. The U.S. would be well-advised to follow that continent’s lead.

Mark P. Fancher is a long-time writer for Black Agenda Report. He can be contacted at mfancher[at]comcast.net.

From Yasuh