By Prof. Adesoji Adesugba, DBA, FRSA
With the number of infected people worldwide surpassing the one million mark and over 46,000 deaths, the global attention the coronavirus has created is unsurpassed in the recent history of mankind. Although the pandemic started in Wuhan China sometimes towards the last quarter of 2019, the United States of America has suddenly turned to be the epicentre of the coronavirus in the world.
According to the John Hopkins University Centre for Systems Science and Engineering Portal, the USA currently has 278,458 confirmed cases and still rising by the hour with more than 7,159 deaths. While only 9,897 people have recovered. Spain currently comes second with 124, 736 confirmed cases, Italy has 119, 827 cases, Germany, 91,159, France, 83,029 cases while China, where it started from, has 82,543 cases with 3,330 deaths and 76,942 recovered patients.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) stated on its portal that the whole of the African Region as at yesterday has 5263 confirmed cases with about 164 deaths. The alarming increase in the number of affected persons from Asia, Europe, and the Americas has no doubt led to a hysteria never before seen by the world powers and a race by them to seek a cure. As for that hysteria, it has also affected leaders in Africa despite the low figures of confirmed cases of the coronavirus and has initiated a concentration of efforts by following global trends of seeking strategies for stemming the tide of the spread of the coronavirus in the continent.
To my mind, Africa should not at this moment pay less emphasis on other communicable diseases ravaging the continent over the years which had hitherto gained minimal attention from world leaders, who are now panicking over the Coronavirus in their territories. Yes, I agree, the world should always work together in finding solutions to health issues as it affects all and not just when it affects a particular class of people.
One thing I gave a serious thought to during my period of self-isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic hysteria is the question of what has happened in Africa to the eradication of different types of communicable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and lately HIV? The statistics are daunting, and one should be amazed why the world especially the big pharmaceutical companies have not raced against time in seeking a permanent solution to the scourge that had ravaged Africa before the advent of this new strain of coronavirus tagged COVID-19.
According to the United States of America Embassy in Nigeria, Malaria affects 3.3 billion people, or half of the world’s population, in 106 countries and territories. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 216 million cases of malaria occurred in 2010, 81% in the African region. In 2017, it was estimated that 435 000 deaths due to malaria had occurred globally, of which 403 000 deaths (approximately 93%) were in the African Region. Malaria is the 3rd leading cause of death for children under five years worldwide, after pneumonia and diarrheal disease. Malaria is the 2nd leading cause of death from infectious diseases in Africa, after HIV/AIDS. Almost 1 out of 5 deaths of children under 5 in Africa is due to malaria. Malaria is a risk for 97% of Nigeria’s population. There are an estimated 100 million malaria cases with over 90,000 deaths per year in Nigeria. This compares with 215,000 deaths per year in Nigeria from HIV/AIDS and over 200,000 deaths a year from Tuberculosis. Malaria contributes to an estimated 11% of maternal mortality.
Tuberculosis is another scourge ravaging the African Continent. A report by the Copenhagen Consensus Centre titled Nigeria Perspective: Tuberculosis, stated that “Nigeria comes third behind only India and China in terms of tuberculosis cases. Every year, around 245,000 Nigerians die from tuberculosis (TB) and about 590,000 new cases occur (of these, around 140,000 are also HIV-positive). TB accounts for more than 10% of all deaths in Nigeria. Every hour, nearly 30 people die from the disease, despite effective treatments being available”. The report went on to evaluate the cost to the Nation by putting a saving of over 2.8 million additional years of life annually. Even valuing a year of life at just 200,000 Naira, the low end of the range, means that each Naira spent gives benefits worth billions of Naira, as well as saving hundreds of thousands of lives of the people.
Currently, about one-third of the Nigerian population are said to carry a latent infection of TB with about 5% going on to develop active TB within eighteen months and the same percentage risk of developing TB later in life. TB is a big problem for Nigeria but one which can be tackled effectively. Taking a second look at this age-long disease ravaging Africa by panicky world leaders and the pharmaceutical companies will go a long way in the world showing empathy on all of humanity and not just a privileged set. This will be a good investment and would costly benefit the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.
Another disease that should be of great concern to world leaders is the recent occurrence of the Lassa fever epidemic in Nigeria. According to the WHO, Lassa fever is endemic in Nigeria and the annual peak of human cases is usually observed during the dry season (December–April) following the reproduction cycle of the Mastromy rats in the wet season (May – June). At the moment there is no known cure for the disease, yet the world looks on since it has no direct bearing to their societies.
From the recent WHO statistics of February 2020 for Lasa fever in Nigeria, I am sure we should all be alarmed. From 1 January through 9 February 2020, 472 laboratory-confirmed cases including 70 deaths (case fatality ratio= 14.8% compared to COVID-19 of less than 3% in Africa) have been reported in 26 out of 36 Nigerian states and the Federal Capital Territory. Of the 472 confirmed cases, 75% have been reported from three states: Edo (167 cases), Ondo (156 cases) and Ebonyi (30 cases). The other states that have reported cases include Taraba (25), Bauchi (14), Plateau (13), Kogi (13), Delta (12), Nasarawa (4), Kano (4), Rivers (4), Enugu (4), Borno (3), Kaduna (3), Katsina (3), Benue (2), Adamawa (2), Sokoto (2), Osun (2), Abia (2), Kebbi (2), Gombe (1), Oyo (1), Anambra (1), FCT (1), and Ogun (1). Fifteen confirmed cases have been reported among health care workers with one death among a confirmed case and one among a probable case.
While it is important for the world to join together to find common solutions for the cure of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is equalky important for world leaders especially African leaders not to forget the need to work towards the eradication of traditional age-old diseases in Africa which so far have no cure. The world should henceforth change its strategy of abandoning one part of the whole when diseases are deemed to be only in that part. Humanity should work together to stop the deaths from communicable diseases everywhere they occur.
Also, Africa should use the opportunity of this world hysteria on COVID-19 to look inwards to develop its health infrastructure and become self-sufficient in providing solutions for its health needs. Budgeting for the health sector should be strategic as it has been shown by the COVID-19 pandemic that this could be a matter of national security.
More health professionals should be trained, more hospitals built with necessary equipment and tools, research and development in the sector should be adequately funded while the health and medical personnel should be adequately remunerated. It is high time African governments stop paying lip service to the funding of the health sector.