It was around the second week of January 2020 when I paid a visit to my friend. In his home, I heard for the first time about the pandemic on CNN ruining lives in Wuhan China. Coronavirus which is known as COVID‒19, is a viral respiratory infection transmitted from human to human with over 3 million people infected across the world. Presently, the world is yet to find a cure for this disease, but it can be prevented with proper hygiene and observation of social/physical distancing.
My thoughts and reactions was same as any empath ‒ of pity and sadness and I prayed in my heart for the families that were affected. At the time, the death toll was around one hundred as confirmed by the WHO. It was unimaginable for me to think that the infection would rise and affect millions of lives globally as it is today. It was such an unthinkable thing. But it did happened.
As the day progressed, the rounds on social media continued to be more intense with messages, hashtags, including different shades of stereotypes, stigma towards China and Asian people and this left me with deep thoughts and concern. As the death toll astronomically rose, it became even more worrisome. News of new infections, confirmed cases in places like Europe and USA hits so hard on me not because I live there, although I have friends and families there but because I fear what will become of Africa, especially Nigeria with less sophisticated healthcare system and infrastructures.
As a community Pharmacist, I understand the porosity in our healthcare system and how it particularly impact on the poorest of the poor, and other vulnerable populations like women, young people, people living with disabilities including the influence of religion and culture to our poor care seeking behaviour.
Aware of how hard it could hit if the virus ever gets into the country (Nigeria), I became an avid follower of World Health Organisation (WHO) and other credible news outfits on social media to get real time information on the virus‒ trying to know how it spread, how to prevent contracting it. This action made me even more knowledgeable and an informed health educator for my clients. Ever since, I had counselled my clients to follow all WHO and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) public health advisory guidelines for prevention and to boast their immune system.
Capitalism At Its Worse
It has been real fiasco especially for people like me working in the health sector at the community level. As a community Pharmacist, I had sold hand sanitizers occasionally. Seeing sudden, panic buying of sanitizers, face masks and gloves ‒commodities which were only sold to doctors and nurses got me really scared. The extremely high demand for all these commodities made me see some of the sad reality of influence of capitalism in public health emergency. Within 24 hours of the first confirmed case in Lagos, there was ridiculous increase in prices of these essential commodities. What a fight for survival!
Howbeit prior to the confirmed index case in the country, the price of face mask was around Six Hundred Naira for a box of 50 pieces but the price rose to Ten Thousand Naira, and to Twenty Thousand Naira which is equivalent to minimum wage of most working people in the country. This ridiculous increase in prices of essential commodities also applied to sanitizers with about 500% increase. Although people have adapted by becoming “skilled professionals” in making home-made sanitizers, whether those meets the WHO standards is a different matter altogether.
I am afraid for my safety and that of my loved ones due to the nature of my job even with all the precautions. In the city where I live and work, there has been series of lock downs, as part of government’s response to reducing the spread of the virus. But how best can the stay at home order work when most people in the country are daily income earners; without any sort of palliative from the government to support with. And for those who decide to stay at home, they are stock at home with no electricity, water and reliable security network.
Seeing the effects of the pandemic on the economy, the health system and wellbeing, I am more inspired to pursue a post graduate degree in Public Health so that I can make better contribution to future public health emergencies including researching innovative ways to integrate technology in healthcare systems to improve health. As a good start, I have successfully completed a certification course from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on COVID-19: TACKLING THE NOVEL CORONAVIRUS.
This is indeed an uncertain time for everyone in the world. However, this period has allowed me the chance to bond more with my family. All of my other three siblings are at home now since returning from the university which rarely happens in my family and I am sure it maybe the same in many families. This is apparently the good side of coronavirus pandemic.
But I am also deeply concerned with rapid increase in domestic violence in some families, especially towards women. This is so sad and unacceptable. No one should have to die at home while hiding from coronavirus. Home should be home.
I hereby make a solemn call to everyone of us alive today, to unite in solidarity, putting away petty politics, racism, and discrimination for our survival.
Written by Chisom Victor Ukaegbu.