“If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war – not missiles, but microbes…” Bill Gates 2015 TED Talk
The above seem prophetic in light of the Covid 19 pandemic that has engulfed the world. The flu like virus that came to light in December 2019 in Wuhan, China has taken us by storm unlike any event I have witnessed my life time. It has overwhelmed health services of Italy and Iran and threatening to do so for many countries with international health systems. All global stock markets have suffered huge falls, unlike anything in recorded history. The entire world is in lock-down. And this is just three months after covid 19 came to the global attention. Its true impact is unlikely to be known anytime soon.
What is very clear is that the world is completely unprepared for any health pandemic. The WHO has gone into overdrive, warning, advocating for safe practices, disseminating critical information garnered from Wuhan in China, Iran, Italy and other hotspots. However what has come to light is absence of a global set-up to deal with this clear and present danger. Five years ago this was clearly predicted by Bill Gates.
How can we prepare for this and the next epidemic?
Not only did the founder of Microsoft and philanthropist warn about a future pandemic, he also provided a plausible proposal on how best to deal with such scenario. He stated that dealing with an epidemic would require hundreds of thousands of workers that no individual country could possibly have. Thus he proposed the building of a global health response system using technology that is already in existence like cell phones to push information to people quickly and satellite maps showing migration trends. He suggested that epidemic preparedness should look like war preparedness, with full-time workers and reserves ready to deploy rapidly and to see how well people are prepared. To deal with the next epidemic Gates suggested that we need the following:
First, assist poor countries in building strong health systems. Second, medical reserve corps, with lots of people with training and expertise ready to deploy. Third, pairing the medical and military experts, so the military can provide logistics and secure areas. Fourth, simulations or “germ games” to see how well leaders are prepared and finally funding for advanced research and development in areas of vaccines and diagnostics. Gates suggested all the above can be funded at a fraction of current military spending and if done in a global set-up would be eminently affordable and practical.
Impact of Covid 19 in Sub-saharan Africa and what must be done
Up to this point it is very difficult to gauge the impact of Covid 19 in Sub-Saharan Africa. The truth is we are not sure due to the lack of testing equipment and weak heath care systems. We have a predominantly young population and most of our people work “hand to mouth” thus have minimum capacity to self-quarantine. We have to get out of our abodes to look for the next meal for the family. Our governments have no capacity to fund the most vulnerable in our society so as to enforce social distancing. Our benefactors are themselves in the midst huge challenges to their health systems and economies, understandably, spare little time to others. That said, potentially the impact to our part of the world can be enormous and we call upon humanitarian organization and other well-wishers to be pro-active and to intervene before we bare the worst of Covid 19.
Fortunately, technology allows for intervention with minimal contact. First and foremost our governments must identify the most vulnerable families in society, those living on a dollar per day. The government in conjunction with humanitarian organizations to provide them with a basic mobile phone and so as to provide them with thirty dollars per month through mobile money for the duration of the lockdown. We in Tanzania are well organized at the village level with ten-cell leaders who can be used to organize for the procurement of all basic needs with minimal congregation of people. Purchase of Parafin, maize flour, sugar, cooking oil and basic vegetables to last for a few days. None perishables can be purchased weekly or monthly. Major distributors of such basic needs, such as Azam or METL can be brought onboard to assist in how to safely distribute the necessities to reduce unnecessary congregations.
In spite of all the information disseminated from the mainstream and social media, there is a nagging feeling our people have not taken on board the magnitude of Covid 19 and its impact socially and economically today and our immediate fu
Abdullah Mwinyi is an experienced corporate lawyer. He was also a member of the East African Legislative Assembly for ten years.