Opinion

COVID-19:Rescue And Recover NOW, By Lola Dare

Nigeria may be bungling a race we started so well with refreshing accolades from everyone!

The massive Dangote-Access Bank donation is appropriated by the CBN. States are establishing ‘Food and Relief Committees’ with one purpose – attract High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) to donate relief funds in the absence of a public health system that can respond or any social protection structure. 

The prevailing skills set across these committees is wealth or access to it.  Private sector is establishing COVID19 siloed initiatives for their staff. Our humanitarian efforts may unintentionally be geographically skewed, favouring areas where conditional cash transfers currently exist, not locations that are hardest hit by COVID19 and its emergency response interventions.  Civil society is speaking English on social media. Our WhatsApp messages are brimming with facts, myths and misinformation, a COVID19 infodemic as it is now identified.  Within this environment, opinions have become fact, especially if you are wealthy or in well-resourced private sector, at the expense of reasoned expert positions! As these go on, citizens are dying due to weak health systems whose fragility are further challenged by unfocused knee jerk responses to a pandemic. To the poor it is ‘Aluta Continua’ nothing new here! This is a time when our voices must not only be in the room but also with communities and citizens

COVID19 will become endemic in Nigeria with epidemic episodes. The developed world will kick it out. But in Africa, it will join the distinguished league of polio, TB, HIV, diarrhoea diseases and maternal deaths. It now very clear, that whether you are rich or poor, urban or rural, our key cause of death is not the pathogen, it is ‘fragile public health system and absent of social protection systems’.  It may become a missed opportunity rather to rescue and recover our fragile public health system and rudimentary social protection systems.

Civil society is challenged by limited resources as well as poor platforms for collective voices and co-ordinated responses. It’s all talk, paper development and political correctness. Who shall speak to power? How should we change things? Osun has established 21-man Food and Relief Committee.  Ekiti just announced 42 Resource Mobilization Committee.  Many other states are following in the same vein.  The common skill set in each of these committees is wealth or access to it. Not public health management or social protection as this urgency requires in its rescue and recovery phase.

Millions still die daily from malaria, TB, diarrhea disease and complications of pregnancy and child birth! No state government has established ‘Food and Relief Fund’ or committee for them. Collectively, private sector did not care. They still really do not. They can pay for their own executives and senior management staff while they earn huge profits from public sector contracts and sale of poor-quality consumer goods to the ‘others’. If urgent care is not taken by all COVID19 will truly be the predicted disaster for all in the short and long term.

Developed economies are positioned not only to grant us debt relief but also to advance credit facilities in huge amounts to us as soon as they settle down and kick out the disease in their own countries. They will. In spite of the global lack of readiness for this particular pandemic, their health systems are robust and secure. Their social protection systems are equitable and accountable.  Their citizens are informed with core poverty at single digit levels.  Our own demands as citizens need to shift pretty much in the same directions so we can exploit this opportunity in this crisis to strength our own fragile public health and social protection systems.

Global institutions are poised to make this their priority area of provision of technical assistance to us (Africans) to deal with COVID19 as it becomes endemic with sporadic epidemics. They will.

Global CSOs are positioning to ensure COVID19 impacts on every issue so they can tap into resources made available for it. Like the important movement to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC) even issue and disease burden positions the impact COVID19 as its priority, and so doing will retain the comfort of their silos.  They shall also succeed!  The risk is a lost opportunity to strengthen national systems.  

Our very fragile health system meant we were neither prepared nor ready. Can we at least Rescue and Recover? Take advantage of the pandemic to scale up on the PHC approach, fix our health systems and build social protection platforms that is so urgently needed.

We need to do this differently. We need a community-based approach. Our frontline health workers need to be both protected and resourced.  They urgently need Personal Protection Equipment, testing kits as well as medical supplies and consumables.  These have been lifelong requests of advocates for health – robust national health systems that are secure and accountable based on the primary health care approach (PHC). Our national health workforce also need protection from poaching as the demand for health workers, especially nurses and intensivist escalate.  

We must learn from what works for Polio, Immunization, HIV, TB and is contributing to the reversal  of child and maternal deaths across Africa.

This message goes well beyond advocacy, it is an urgent appeal.  Please join us to collectively call our governments and private sector partners to shape their efforts to include critical and urgent investments to a robust and impacting public health and social protection programme that engages citizens and communities.  We know that this is what works.  We have learned this over and over again.  Now, we must choose to ‘fail forward’

I know we can do this.  My hope is that we do

#WashYourHands #StaySafe #StayHome #ElbowCough #SocialDistance #ShareFactsNotFear #CelebrateHealthWorkers #CoronaVirus #COVID19 #ComCOVID  

Dr. Lola Dare

President, CHESTRAD Global 

London, 5th April 2020

lola.dare@chestrad-ngo.org            

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