By Dr Paul Kasenene
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a standstill. There have been lockdowns of various intensity globally to try and curb the spread of the virus, to protect health care systems and to prevent significant loss of life as has been suffered in some countries. However, even as we do this, we need to think about the bigger picture.
No matter how effective these various shutdowns have been, they have caused significant disruption to every aspect of our lives that are now predicted to have far-reaching and dire consequences. We are likely to see the worst economic recession in centuries, with the World Bank reporting that tens of millions of the world’s citizens are expected to drop into abject poverty. There are likely to be significant increases in famine, global poverty, suicide, mental health problems, domestic violence and worsening of chronic disease.
From a health perspective, there are many serious concerns. The many people who go without adequate food and nutrition during this time will have significantly weakened immunity and therefore greatly increased risk if infected with COVID-19. While disruptions to healthcare access are already causing spikes in death to preventable conditions like maternal death in childbirth.
In addition, both the World Health Organisation and UNAIDS have said that we are likely to see between 500,000 to 600,000 extra HIV deaths in Sub Saharan Africa alone due to disruptions from COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020-21. How many millions will die in Africa and globally due to HIV and all health-related issues resulting from COVID-19 lockdown disruptions? It’s a disturbing question.
We really need to ask ourselves if this is really the best strategy considering the likely impact. The only way we can justify such measures likely to lead to profound consequences for years to come is if the threat we face to our lives from COVID-19 is significantly greater. It really isn’t an easy time for those who have to make decisions, but we must look at the bigger picture.
Are there alternative measures that could be explored that will not have such dire consequences? At the end of the day if these actions and disruptions we are taking save hundreds of thousands from COVID-19 death and we lose millions more due to hunger and other health problems as a consequence of COVID-19 disruptions, will we have won at the end of the day? And that is not even considering the poverty and other economic consequences.
We all need to begin thinking about this and begin asking ourselves what is really the best way to respond.
There are a couple of important things though in this regard that we need to keep in mind.
First, is that we need to stop living in fear. Fear doesn’t change anything. It only paralyses us and can make us fail to think critically and rationally, something greatly needed at this time. Unfortunately, most of the information we have is from the media. While their aim may not be to create fear and worry, the information that they report does. They update us on how many people are dying by the second, show scenes of suffering and share stories of people who have lost entire families. This, however, can cause fear and is often the basis of our thinking and how we respond. It may sometimes be better to limit your exposure to the news.
Second, not all information is useful, objective and in your interests. This is a reality that we must all be aware of. Just because someone shares an opinion like I am doing now, or the media shares a story or someone posts something on social media, doesn’t mean it is the truth or useful. Sometimes, the information you receive may be in the interests of others even at your expense. Just be critical and think for yourself in this world of information overload.
I recently read an article online on Euronews entitled: Analysis: Africa’s unexpected figures. The author was discussing the “surprisingly” low figures due to COVID-19 in Africa. This immediately shows that there was a perception that Africa would be ravaged by the disease. The author states that there had been initial dire predictions for Africa due to weak health systems that could collapse if the virus spread rapidly. He states that in general, the poor ability to test and the crowded living conditions should be a fertile environment for rapid spread and eventual mass death given the highly infectious nature of COVID-19.
But, he acknowledges that we are now in the middle of May and these predictions haven’t proven true. Rather, there have been very few cases of COVID-19, with no evidence of hospitals being overwhelmed and no spike in deaths.
Even after suggesting that perhaps the age demographics of the population and perhaps decisive action from countries like Uganda and Rwanda may have helped, he concluded that we are still very much in the early stages of this global pandemic, and those dire predictions for Africa may well still hold true. He states that inevitably the poorest people will yet again be hit hardest, with devastating consequences.
My personal opinion is that his conclusion and particularly the last sentence will generate anxiety and fear if you read it and also live in Africa. Why wouldn’t it make you worry and perhaps even advocate further drastic action to avoid this looming disaster?
But, my point is that such news doesn’t serve us at all. Considering many of us don’t have a scientific understanding of this pandemic, we base our opinions on such news.
I need you to realise that, to begin with, that is his opinion and not a fact. Next is that the author probably has limited knowledge of Africa and the capacity built over the years to fight disease outbreaks. And his conclusion shows that there is no regard to the fact that possibly Africa will not go on to be hard hit even after he says that some countries that took limited action didn’t get hit hard as expected and that by May we should have had enough time to see those predicted mass deaths.
Do you question what is presented in the news, their conclusions or even possible agenda? Nonetheless, people are reading this, however accurate or biased.
Surely after two to three months of COVID-19 in Africa, we have some information to work with. The whole world has been affected by COVID-19, the same disease, and we have all literally taken the same action. But unlike some countries that had 10,000 deaths about eight weeks after their first, all African countries are below 600 deaths as at 15th April and Uganda at zero. This surely cannot be ignored.
We need to keep in mind that the consequences of COVID-19 disruptions will be felt most in developing countries and continents like Africa, which by the way have the least deaths from COVID-19. We will suffer the most from the disruptions and yet we have the least death and therefore perhaps the least need for these disruptions.
Currently, there are between 2,500 and 3,000 deaths from COVID-19 in Africa after about two to three months. I’m not sure how many there will be in six months time. I’m not sure we will ever reach 100,000. However, in only six months of disruption, there will be an extra 600,000 deaths due to HIV in Sub Saharan Africa. We will likely have more deaths each day from the disruption than all deaths combined over a three month period. How many millions of lives will be lost from HIV, other diseases and hunger after another 12 months?
There are no easy answers. We honestly cannot tell what will happen and so it is prudent to plan and take precaution. But, we really need to be looking at the bigger picture as we respond to this COVID-19 pandemic.
Ultimately we all need to be acting in the best interest of our society, our people and our situation. That leads me the next issue.
We have to stop being selfish and start caring more for the common good
COVID19 has shown that many of us (myself inclusive) have been selfish, living only for ourselves without much concern for others. If it is ok for me, it doesn’t matter what happens to others. We accumulate wealth as others go hungry and have little to live on. Many of us have even misused whatever status, power and wealth we have at the expense of others. We do all kinds of selfish things, sometimes deliberately doing things that may be harmful to others, as long as it benefits us.
Many human problems are driven by selfishness. We knowingly make and sell foods and other items that cause disease. We cut forests that harm the environment for money. We do all sorts of things, including even manipulating viruses in labs. What has humankind gotten to?
Now with COVID-19, as long as it is well with our family and us, we are happy to be in lockdown without much consideration that many others will consequentially suffer without food. The sad reality is that many are likely to go hungry and die due to the COVID-19 disruptions.
But as long as you can be spared with lockdowns, these lockdowns seem justified. Are we really saving lives with our actions? Is it science or selfishness or fear driving our actions? Perhaps a bit of all.
Ultimately it’s the fear of death that is driving all our individual and collective responses which leads me to the third point.
COVID-19 has exposed the mortal nature of our humanity and that we are not in control
COVID-19 has exposed the fragile nature of our lives and existence. It is a gentle reminder of the simple truth that we are dust, and to dust we shall all return. Whether we spare our lives with these lockdowns, remember that you can’t save yourself from death.
Whether you die from COVID-19, from hunger caused by the lockdown, from cancer, from a car accident or some human-inspired disaster, we shall all die.
Your life is only a combination of a limited amount of time and energy. Every second that passes is a second closer to your grave. With every ounce of energy we expend, we are tapping into a finite resource that will one day end. Life is about using these energies productively as well as protecting these energies until you eventually pass on. In Part 2, I explained how to protect your life energy, especially from COVID-19.
COVID-19 may not bring death to most of us, but hopefully, it has shown us what death will do. Death detaches you from all earthly wealth, power or status just as has COVID-19 has done for some of us. Many in this time have probably have realised this. We should all see this as a unique opportunity to think about how we use our life energies.
No matter what we do, ultimately, death is inevitable.
You will one day finally have to relinquish your life energies in death. At that point, what will matter most? Is it the material wealth, the power, the status that many of us have sometimes acquired at the expense of others?
Ultimately it is love for humanity and others that matters most.
You may not be in a position to influence the global or even national response to COVID-19. But we are all able to reach out to our neighbour and begin to make a difference in our own way. As Mother Theresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
What are you doing or going to start doing to make this world a better place especially in this time of COVID-19?
Simply do your part unselfishly and out of love for the good of all. Many of you are presently in positions of influence, wealth and authority to make this situation genuinely better for everyone. Don’t do what is convenient or what serves the interests of a few. Do what is right for your neighbour, for the majority and for humanity so that together we can make this world a better place.
That is what matters now. This is what can get us out of this “crisis”. This will be the only thing that will matter at the moment of your death. If you are a Christian, remember, Jesus left simple commandments: Love your neighbour and love one another.
In the final part of this series, I will share parting thoughts that I hope will make all that I will have shared even more worthwhile.
I wish you all peace, health and God’s blessings.
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