By the time you read this, you must have already heard the news.
I am ‘sick’ once again.
Yes, sickly Africa is unwell, yet again.
Omicron, they call it.
Not that the new variant was found BY South Africans.
Researchers in South Africa and Botswana.
But that the new variant was found IN South Africa.
Mimi Kalinda tweeted it.
Narrative matters, she said.
But it doesn’t matter now.
I ‘have’ Omicron.
A diagnosis terrible enough to spark visceral fear and stigma across the world.
Travel bans. Cancelled bookings. More travel bans.
A diagnosis terrible enough to remind us of the ostrich burying its head in the sand: the inequities of the pandemic.
You see, nearly one in two of the global population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
And about 8.55 billion doses have been administered globally, and 37.34 million are now distributed each day.
But, only 102 million people, or 7.5 per cent of the population in Africa, is fully vaccinated. Four in five Africans still needs to receive the first dose.
A bad case of the inequitable distribution of vaccines that Cheikh Oumar Seydi aptly said was the continent that is the last in line for vaccines, first in line for travel bans.
And the UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “the people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available.”
But it doesn’t matter now.
Unvaccinated people are a reservoir for viruses to multiply and mutate, aka ‘variant factories’.
As it is now, 77 countries–a minority of whom are from Africa–have reported cases of Omicron, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) says it is “spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant”.
Vaccines are not a silver bullet.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General WHO, warned, “Vaccines alone will not get any country out of this crisis.”
It's not vaccines instead of masks, he said.
It's not vaccines instead of distancing, he said.
It's not vaccines instead of ventilation or hand hygiene, he said.
Dr Tedros said: Do it all. Do it consistently. Do it well.
Proper disease monitoring.
Proper virus sequencing.
Consistent data sharing.
But above all, a correct narrative about me–from Cape to Cairo– about my innovative people finding (local) solutions to the global pandemic.
Like Senegal’s $1 COVID-19 diagnostic test that can be done at home.
Like Kenya’s award-winning Wheels for Life, the initiative that was helping pregnant women access medical care during the country’s dawn to dusk curfew.
Like Ghana using Zipline drones to take samples to testing sites.
Like Rwanda using robots to screen and monitor COVID-19 patients.
That Omicron was found BY researchers in South Africa and Botswana.
The world needs to know what is really going on in Africa.
Not the misinformation, fear, and narrative that portrays me, Africa, as a sickly (poor, disenfranchised, weak, pitiful) continent.
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