By Leo Igwe
A pandemic that has threatened to extinct humanity provides an ample opportunity to envision possible futures and explore post-human permutations. This is because, amidst the gloom and despair, fears, and anxieties over human survival, it is compelling that humans reimagine and re-conceive the human. Speculations about the future must engage and move beyond human vulnerabilities and imperfectabilities holding out some hope and optimism about the future and humanity.
A post-human take on the coronavirus pandemic is quite pertinent especially for the African continent, a region that has been predicted would be most affected by COVID19. Although the surge in the infection rate that many predicated has not materialized, the region is no less vulnerable to epidemics and pandemics that could threaten human existence and survival in the region. Thus any speculation about redesigning or technologically augmenting the human is both cogent and promising and laden with opportunities and possibilities worthy of a reflection.
Pandemic Rattles Africa
The outbreak of COVID 19 caused so much panic and anxiety across Africa and the world. Drastic and unprecedented measures have been put in place to contain the spread of the virus- social distancing, a ban on international and domestic flights, and prohibition of public gathering in parks, churches, and schools. The pandemic has posed a serious challenge to African politics, economies, and health care sectors. According to the WHO, the first reported case of COVID 19 in Africa was on February 14 and since then 52 countries have reported cases. African countries still lag behind the rest of the world in testing and monitoring of the disease. In my country Nigeria, the number of confirmed cases has continued to rise[i]. Very few tests have been conducted due to the limited number of testing equipment and personnel in the country. Like the Ebola virus, COVID 19 has revealed the fragile and weak health care capacities in African countries especially the technological deficit in the management of diseases. The UN Economic Commission on Africa[ii] has projected that between 300 thousand and 3 million Africans will lose their lives as a result of COVID 19. However, it noted that this projected impact could be affected by the intervention measures from the various countries.
These grim prospects for the region are predicated on so many factors including overcrowding and poorly serviced slum dwellings in urban areas, limited access to handwashing facilities, informal workforce, undernourishment, underlying health conditions such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, and extreme poverty. Besides, there is a challenge posed by snake oil sellers who take advantage of people. Lack of a cure for the disease has provided an opportunity for quacks and other con artists to peddle fake therapies for the coronavirus, at very exorbitant prices. In Ghana[iii] and Nigeria, there have been reports of traditional healers, operators of herbal clinics, and pastors market spurious remedies and questionable cures for COVID19.
As earlier noted, COVID19 poses a serious challenge to African countries in the area of testing for the virus. As of June 29 Nigeria, a country of over 200 million persons has carried out a little over 130 000 tests[iv]. Let us assume that Nigeria can carry out a million tests at the end of the year, how long will it take to test half of the population of the country? The same situation applies to Zambia. Zambia reported its first two cases of COVID19 in March. In May, this country of about 17 million people has conducted only 20,000 tests. Whilst in Kenya, the number of tests was 45,000 and 537,713 tests were required to cover one percent of the population[v].
As Belinda Herring[vi] has noted there is a lack of necessary infrastructure to tackle covid19. African countries lack the equipment and trained human resources, and also the reagents that are needed to do the tests.
To carry out these tests, African countries depend on other countries to send or sell the resources to them. They rely on the WHO to make available the testing materials, training as well as tracking facilities. Even with the existing support from other countries and the WHO, African countries need a technological leap to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Various technologies need to converge and combine in ways that could signal hope, enhance the health care capacity, and accelerate testing as well as treatment processes.
As it stands, the COVID 19 management status quo in African countries is anything but smart and capable of getting countries to defeat the pandemic. Some countries have trained human resources but there aren’t enough testing kits. They may possess testing kits but lack enough personnel to use them. Some countries have laboratories for the tests but not enough reagents or protective devices for the scientists and health workers.
Thus the effective management of covid19 is predicated on revamping the health infrastructure in African countries and making available cutting edge health technologies for testing, monitoring, and treatment of the disease. For instance, in Nigeria, the technology for testing and management of COVID 19 should be available and accessible to the country’s 200 million people, not just less than a million at currently the case. So with the current infrastructure, it is evident that African countries are incapable of meeting the targets of combating and containing covid19 and other life and human threatening epidemics and pandemics.
African countries need to transition into more technology-mediated societies that can harness scientific and technological innovations, emerging technologies including robotics, nanotechnology, gene therapy, stem cell therapy, and artificial intelligence in combating the disease. To rattle the COVID19 management status quo in the region, a convergence of technologies and blurring of the line between is required to scale up efficient and effective management of the pandemic.
Leo Igwe is a Public Affairs Analyst.