Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ebola's Revelation

Ebola virus
Photo: CDC
The recent Ebola outbreak that’s been plaguing West Africa has revealed to Africans and the rest of the world the unpreparedness of African leaders, as well as just how dangerous things can get when countries neglect their healthcare systems. When the first cases of Ebola were reported in Guinea, appropriate steps should have been taken by neighboring countries to prevent it from spreading beyond Guinea’s borders. Instead, there was a collective ‘it’s not our problem’ attitude, which ultimately led to further outbreaks in Sierra Leone, Liberia and, most recently, Nigeria. 

In Nigeria’s case, there was plenty of time to take preventive measures against a possible Ebola outbreak after it had spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone, but nothing was done until it was too late. For starters, the Nigerian government should have suspended all flights to and from infected countries, especially with the knowledge that such an outbreak occurring in mega city like Lagos (which is a hub for all regional flights) may prove enormously difficult to contain. But judging by the Nigerian government’s track record of handling critical issues, their slow response wasn’t surprising. 

The outbreak has also revealed just how toxic ignorance can be, especially when tainted with fear. Within days of the first reported case of Ebola in Nigeria, a ridiculous message, advising that people bathe with salt water or drink it for protection against Ebola, had spread like wild fire via text message and social media. Needless to say, some hapless persons heeded the erroneous advice and ended up either dead or hospitalized.

Assuming salt water was the vaccine against Ebola, wouldn’t WHO have announced it eons ago? Moreover, anyone with some secondary school education or access to the internet should know that osmosis will occur when a cell is placed in a solution of differing concentration. It’s the logic behind why people adrift at sea don’t imbibe sea water, as it will only make them thirstier. 

Ignorance also took the form of a well-known pastor based in Lagos. He made a proclamation urging Ebola stricken patients to visit his church for healing. Why would anyone attempt to endanger public safety by making such a comment? Fortunately, officials from the Lagos state government intervened and advised the pastor not to admit anyone with the disease. Meanwhile in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, armed men stormed and raided a quarantine center. What they’ve achieved by committing such an inexplicable act remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that some have unwittingly infected themselves. 

Apparently, thinking has become such an arduous task that people no longer process information. 

An inconvenient truth that's been brought to the fore by this Ebola outbreak is that African governments generally do not invest in healthcare, and on the rare occasion when they do, it’s for the elite. Take for instance the 705 million naira ($4.3 million) that was earmarked in the 2014 budget for the addition of a VIP wing to the presidential clinic in Aso Rock (the official residential area and workplace of the Nigerian president). Is it logical to invest such funds in a clinic that’s only accessible to a few individuals, when teaching hospitals are in dire need of medical equipment and well-trained staff? Moreover, it’s common knowledge that the President will be flown abroad, on taxpayer’s money, for any ailment that’s more than a headache. 

Conversely, in Rwanda, government officials seeking medical attention abroad are not allowed to use public funds. Essentially, this approach should incentivize Rwandans, especially those in government, to invest in their healthcare infrastructure. Furthermore, the Rwandan government has been able to provide health insurance coverage for all Rwandans. If Rwanda can achieve this feat, then other African countries have no excuse to not follow suit.

Africans are slowly paying the price for their government’s negligence to healthcare. Not only are they dying from inadequate medical care, they have inadvertently become guinea pigs for drugs that have yet to undergo clinical trial. What’s more, the World Bank has offered $200 million to countries battling Ebola, which seems like a sweet, genuine gesture until pay back time comes around. 

Consequently, there are three basic questions African governments ought to answer: Firstly, when will Africa stop playing Lois Lane to the West’s Superman? Secondly, when will they start investing heavily in pharmaceutical research and development, and adequately train and equip healthcare workers? And lastly, at what point will Africa take charge of her affairs, like Batman, and harness all the wealth, human resource and modern technology at her disposal for the betterment of Africans?