This piece is about a spectre that is currently haunting the entire human race, named, novel coronavirus, but now officially named COVID-19, with origin from China. (Experts believe coronavirus, dubbed a ‘greater global threat than terrorism’, can kill 45 million people and infect 60% of the global population because “each person that tests positive with the virus will go on to infect 2.5 more people”).
The virus is so haunting and hurting that on January 30, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organisation declared it a global “public health emergency”. Since its outbreak in Wuhan city, Hubei Province, China, the virus has, as of Wednesday, claimed 1,115 lives (surpassing MERS with a final toll of 858 deaths in 2012 and SARS that swept from China in the early 2000s, killing 813 people in total), from 45,171 cases, affecting 28 countries and territories across the world and 4,831 recovered cases.
Worldometer, which maintains a daily live update on the “Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak”, on its website, quoted an expert as telling The Times, Britain’s oldest national daily newspaper, that, “compared to Ebola, coronavirus is a “greater threat because of the mode of transmission”. Little wonder, the WHO called it “the worst enemy you can ever imagine”. The mere mention of Ebola should send shivers down the spine of every Nigerian considering the scary experience the country had in 2014: 20 cases and eight deaths including Dr Stella Adedavoh.
However, even though Sherillyn Raga, Senior Research Officer in the Overseas Development Institute’s International Economic Development Group, does not count Nigeria among the “most exposed African countries” in the raging coronavirus scourge, the fact that the WHO has identified 13 African countries as particularly vulnerable, mainly because of their close economic contacts with China, including Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia, should be something to worry about on the continent, especially in Africa’s most populous country and largest economy, Nigeria. This should elicit determined actions from the government.
Raga, in a post titled, Economic vulnerabilities to the coronavirus: top countries at risk, published in the ODI website, admitted that, “The outbreak of the novel coronavirus will have significant impacts on the poorest economies, even if they do not have confirmed cases.” She listed the “most exposed African countries” as Angola, Congo, Sierra Leone, Lesotho, and Zambia. Strikingly, the UNDP says about 70 percent of Nigerians are below the poverty level while a report by Brookings Institution in 2018 says “Nigeria has now taken over as the nation with the highest number of extremely poor people”. That looks like a double whammy!
According to the ODI’s vulnerability index, “the top countries at risk are Sri Lanka, Viet Nam, and the Philippines.” But, sub-Saharan Africa also could lose up to $4bn worth of exports as the outbreak dampens Chinese and global demand, and an estimated “five percent decrease over one year (or 20% in this quarter) would lead to a loss of $3.1bn in the value of mineral fuel exports from sub-Saharan Africa,” it further says.
However, the indirect economic fallout, the Capital Economics claims, is hitting the continent hard, with the sharp fall in commodity prices “battering” it. Of vital interest to Nigeria is that as of Monday, Brent crude prices had been in a steep decline, at $54 per barrel, down by 16.9% since the turn of 2020. In recent years, China has emerged Nigeria’s major trading partner and an attractive source of foreign loans to the Buhari regime, in particular, the latest being the proposed $17bn loan from the China-Exim Bank because other lending institutions like the World Bank and the African Development Bank were not forthcoming.
Given that China’s GDP share of 17% globally in 2019 was four times higher than in 2003 when the SARS virus dragged the world’s output down by $50 billion and with confirmed cases more than double the total of SARS, the coronavirus outbreak is estimated to cost the global economy up to $360 billion, according to the ODI. With the Nigerian economy almost tied to China’s apron strings, this speaks volumes.
Perhaps, this led the White House, late last week, to call over 50 ambassadors and diplomats from nearly 40 African countries to, as the Financial Times reported, “discuss their response, amid fears that an outbreak would severely test the ability of weak health systems to diagnose and contain the virus.” A seemingly agitated US administration official was quoted by the newspaper as lamenting thus: “Africa is everyone’s Achilles heel … one area of the world that hadn’t cracked down and is not prepared to deal with this outbreak. While other nations were cutting flights, African countries were just sitting there. It risks becoming the soft underbelly of the outbreak”.
Much more worryingly, and this for obvious reasons, Flipboard.com reported on Monday that a British man who became infected with coronavirus in Singapore appeared to be linked to at least seven other confirmed cases in England, France and Spain – prompting fears he might be a so-called “super spreader” of the deadly virus. The report further said, “As of 2pm on Sunday, the Department of Health said a total of 795 tests were concluded in the UK, with four testing positive and 791 confirmed negative.” An expert who co-discovered Ebola warned the world that the “UK risks a ‘major’ coronavirus outbreak”, noting that the “potential for spread is much, much higher.”
Considering the growing population of Nigerians in the UK, (the Office for National Statistics claims that “the latest (July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017) published estimates are that 190,000 people (with a confidence interval (CI) of 21,000) that were born in Nigeria live in the UK” while “there are 102,000 (CI 15,000) people with Nigerian citizenship living in the UK.”), there is obviously a genuine cause for palpable concern for the country.
Though the Minister of Health, Prof. Osagie Ehanire, claimed last week that Nigeria was “well-prepared and ready to contain coronavirus, if eventually, it breaks out”, the Financial Times reports that “Only two laboratories in sub-Saharan Africa — the Institut Pasteur in Senegal and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa — are able to test for the virus, raising concern that cases could go undetected or might already exist.” A Twitter user had joked that coronavirus should discountenance the minister because he was not speaking the truth and “should not be taken seriously.”
What measures have been put in place to trace Nigerians who have visited China in the last 14 days? What enlightenment efforts have we undertaken to mobilise Nigerians against this monster?
Interestingly, the minister spoke of Nigeria’s preparedness days before announcing the government’s plan to spend N620m “to monitor, detect and contain the deadly coronavirus in a bid to prevent an outbreak of the disease in the country and further protect citizens.” Aside from that, as the ICRC reported, a look into Nigeria’s health budget for the past 10 years (2010-2019) shows that provisions for the health sector have remained far below 15%, stipulated by the 2001 Abuja Declaration.
The Federal Government’s health budget has fluctuated, with percentages ranging from 3.9% — being the lowest allocation — in 2010, to 5.7% in 2013. Compared to the national budget, 2012 and 2015 had the highest budgetary allocations of 5.8% to the health sector. In 2020, the health ministry had a meagre N427.30bn, out of a total N10tn, representing only 4.14% of the total budget. According to the WHO, Nigeria’s out-of-pocket spending is 95.7% as against the recommended benchmark of 20%, meaning Nigeria is 75.7% away from the recommended benchmark. This shows that the bulk of health spending is on Nigerians. The story is not different at the sub-national level. Even worse in many cases.
Read more: https://punchng.com/nigeria-and-the-raging-monster/