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Published On: Fri, Jan 8th, 2021

Poverty! The Nigerian prophylaxis for Covid-19

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By Loretta Oduware Ogboro-Okor

Today when a friend of mine said to me that both his parents who just arrived the United Kingdom from Lagos were found to be Covid-19 positive, my mind was triggered. This was a test done a few days post arrival in the United Kingdom during their quarantine period.
Clearly, they were positive out of Nigeria……and no, they did not get it by sharing the air in the aeroplane with other travellers because they had only arrived 3 days ago. The incubation period for Covid-19 is longer than 3 days. To be honest, I am more worried about their possible generosity, passing on the invisible pretty and red spiked viral balls to fellow passengers.
Her story about her parents, as I said, prompted my thoughts and consequently an analysis of my own informal survey, reviewing the events of the notorious 2020, a year of which I am certain, many would like to erase from the annals of human existence.
There have been many different hypotheses, postulations and even divinations as to why Nigeria and the other African countries are not fulfilling the Western prophesies of dead bodies littering the streets. Today, my eyes became descaled. My mind opened-up and my reasoning worked out the unusual answer.
Poverty is the protection of Nigerians from covid-19! A shocking and contradictory conclusion for many of you I am sure. I can feel the disbelief from my realm of authorship. How can something as damning as poverty possibly be the protective mechanism for millions? Well, let us take a chill pill and reason this perplexing dilemma together. When looking at it from a greater perspective it is not hard to see the pattern and trend in this country of an estimated population of over 200 million people, where an approximate 70% is living on less than 1 dollar a day. This same 70% are dying less.
The Nigerian elite and rich have recorded more morbidity and mortality. Perhaps you have just quickly responded that this is because the poor are not being tested as frequently (or indeed at all)? I will bow to your superior reasoning here. Nonetheless, why are we not testing at both individual and national level? Individually, the Nigerian masses must be very wise or very practical or both, to question the logic of sacrificing between 35 – 50 thousand Naira to satisfy the “vanity” of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control when even after a COVID-19 test is positive there is no clear-cut treatment anyway? It is true there are a cocktail of medications and a catalogue of medical support gizmos are a last resort, but in most cases, positive means stay indoors till you get worse or in most cases, till you get better. At a national level, why are we not testing in large numbers? Your guess is as good as mine – and remember that healthcare is only allocated 4% of our nation’s budget annually. By the time we deduct what corruption and mismanagement does to that 4%, the unhealthy balance left, may be on the negative side of zero.
To take a paraphrased excerpt, from my security guard friend in Benin city who aptly asked me last week when I told him to go for a test after about a week of unending Malaria; “Madam, why should I test for anything? I learnt that the visiting disease is a cousin of malaria. I hear they are both scared of our anti-Malaria medicines. Since Malaria and me signed a memorandum of understanding at birth I have nothing to fear. I rather invest that money the test will cost me in a business than spend it searching my body for a foreign disease that is not bothering me, even if it is there”.
Evidently. It appears poverty and Covid-19 have formed an unholy alliance against the rich, ruling, and middle classes in Nigeria. The question is how? And more importantly why are two such unlikely partners teaming up against such unnatural foes.
Well, if my memory serves me correctly, it appears (at the simplest level) that our rich and middle class have the money and time to visit exotic locations, pick up the virus and return home with it. Furthermore, our rich can then host large parties at the snap of their fingers to either celebrate or mourn in style. The resultant side effect of the love in sharing they so frequently display is the fact that many come away from these events with a parting gift that sends them to the grave. A deathly omen wrapped in an ostentatious package, it certainly takes the idiom “all that glitters is not gold” to an eerily foreboding and morbid level.
Nigeria has a large proportion of her population in the younger age group. In another unfortunate yet fortunate turn of events, the young are yet to make their millions in Nigeria. Prosperity can almost be accused of being ageist in our country. The young are still poor and strolling under the sun, beefing up their stores of vitamin D. The old that have hammered out their millions are taking refuge in air-conditioned cars and houses, seriously shielding themselves and their loved ones from the major source of vitamin D – the Sun.
As if their intentional avoidance of Vitamin D is not enough, it is also the rich and middle class who are unknowingly choosing the non-communicable diseases of lifestyle. They have perfected this by their regular custom of top of the range fast food joints at the opportunity cost of free-range organic, zinc flowing fruits, vegetables and home-made meals endured by the poor. Many rich Nigerians go on to deplete whatever shred is left of their immunity and potentiate their acquired diseases by substance misuse, cigarette smoking as well as consuming choice liquor in colourful bottles. So, with their money, they buy the co-morbidities, such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and the accompanying complications of these diseases of choice. Now you see how the rich spend money, accumulating complex medical and surgical histories (most of the surgeries are done abroad on the auspices of medical tourism) laying a solid foundation for Covid-19 to work on and work from.
The same rich and vulnerable with respect to Covid-19 further employ the poor and resilient Covid-19 resistant breeds to help spread the virus to them and from them. What do I mean? A poor security official with no co-morbidities because of the reasons already alluded to above, will likely suffer Covid-19; having touched the mobile phones and bags of an employer which he/she carries at every available opportunity like his/her rich masters are upper-limb-less. Then the employee goes home, and an equally resistant poor family have their share of the illness; the effect of which is no more than regular malaria to them. The problem erupts when the poor shares their acquired illness to some more rich Covid-19 vulnerable persons. The poor employee carries every appendage of his employer’s visitors in a bid to get monetary tips. These poor that serve the rich become living walking fomites.
Do we all become poor or would we “stay rich”? Should we be thanking poverty? – the saviour of Nigerians from Covid-19 or are these early days yet? Time will tell……time is telling.

Loretta Oduware Ogboro-Okor is the author of the book, My Father’s Daughter

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