By. Eng. Julius Bakeine Musiimenta
Covid19 continues to surprise many scientists, medical professionals, economists, politicians and the general public. The reach is far beyond its size and also knows no boundaries in its movement. The rich appear to be more vulnerable because of their infrastructural advantages. Fast trains and aeroplanes have identified themselves as conduits of this killer that is invisible to the naked eye.
The bat is a flying mammal, that spends most of its time living upside down. Seems we have not noticed such small things about its creation , lifestyle and likely impact to humanity. We have followed lifestyles of different cultures to our own detriment e.g. Fast foods, dress code, manners, etc each with devastating impact on our health, culture, etc. We are now being forced to live with a bats virus and unwillingly be turned upside down. The Bat is winning, so we have to live upside down. What else would have cleansed our environment? What else could have made us stop the rush for meetings, to catch flights, to make urgent calls, to attend conferences, to suffer from jetlag, to become absentee parents,etc? What could have popularized online learning, zoom meetings, reduced oil prices, made war a smaller issue to report in the news? The bat and its virus is the simple answer. There is suspicion on how the bat was manipulated, but it remains the bat.
We often rely on level of development, democracy, and healthcare systems in identifying countries where to immigrate, seek medical advice and treatment. Patient transportation, handling and admission is claimed to have an impact on the healing process. Unfortunately, the countries that score highest on our checklist are struggling to cope with the influx of patients, the delayed recovery and shortage of everything that we take for granted. I cannot imagine that a modern hospital in some of the most developed countries on this planet would be presenting PPE as a problem. This is what can happen when a system is overwhelmed by patients in numbers beyond imagination. War like situations have been seen in the developed world where stadia, public halls and schools have been turned into makeshift hospitals.
I have listened to several scientists who are equally surprised by the manifestation of this virus. They thought that it could not spread from human to human, then they learnt otherwise. They thought that it was not airborne at all and then confirmed that it was partially airborne and then that it can be found in fecal matter and I now hear of other body fluids. The severity of infections in different regions is keeping medical professionals busy. The underlying medical conditions that can cause fatality have been reported as High blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, cancer, etc. These are illnesses suffered by many people over 40 years. The potential for fatality using this available information is quite high which is quite worrying. No weapon has ever delivered such damage to world economies. Sept 11 and the Nigerian shoe bomber affected aviation checks, but now the bat and its virus are asking us to prioritise and give very reasonable reasons for flying.
When the colonialists came to Africa, they found strong human beings whom they took as slaves. These, our ancestors, were physically fit in all aspects because they had treatment for known diseases using herbs. We did not have large pharmaceutical companies coming to our aid in case of diseases. We had high infant mortality rates but we survived. We had doctors with expertise in selecting herbs for the many illnesses at that time. My father, Mr. Denis Bakeine (RIP), used a herb called Ekibirizi to treat malaria. He did this because he believed in it. As a worker at Kilembe Mines, the entire family had access to free medical services at Kilembe Mines hospital, so his use of Ekibirizi could not be attributed to lack of access to a modern hospital.
The Malagasy leadership has discovered a herbal treatment for Covid and in the process kept their economy alive as the rest of world are killing their economies and struggling to kill the elusive Covid19 virus. Many companies from the developed world have been marketing natural food supplements to boost immunity, thus treating or reducing the severity of Non communicable diseases. This means that the trend towards nature or the jungle for better health has been appreciated and has been ongoing. I also hear that Israel imported our potent Marijuana species to make some medicine. Why then should some people underestimate our African brothers and sisters concoctions from the island? I was told of some people in africa who treats skin diseases by smearing the infected area with elephant poo. Since elephants eat too many varieties of plants, medicinal or not, it saves the medicine man trouble in identification of the exact herb for the problem.
Africa’s hinterland was feared territory because of Malaria and few dared go deep in the jungles of Africa. Very many missionaries died below 35 years of age because of Malaria, so this was a biological weapon that delayed colonialism. Malaria has been killing and continues to kill. Those of us that have suffered from malaria several times are not immune to this killer, but we do not require admission when infected in the first few days, but with the same end result when ignored. That appears to be the only immunity we get: less severity for the first few days as you get treatment. Our ancestors survived this and had treatment for it, otherwise there would have been no one alive in Africa today. We pray that Corona does not behave like malaria, where reinfection can occur posing the same danger as the first infection
Economists advice is being sought by politicians as they seek re election post covid. The economists do not have an idea on how long this pandemic is going to last, so their advice is chasing a moving target. Countries and people are continuing to deplete their resources to levels beyond imagination.
Utility companies in developing countries like Uganda have been stopped from collecting bills to minimise on our covid19 misery. This is quite understandable. How will NWSC and UMEME pay salaries and other operational costs? UMEME has to pay UETCL, while UETCL should pay UEGCL whose generation plants are operating below capacity and have huge loans to service. UMEME will easily collect money using their YAKA system, but will collect nothing from the other customers not on this automatic metering and payment system. The power tariff is derived from cost of energy received from UETCL, transmission losses, depreciation on infrastructure, operational costs and other costs. These costs must be recovered from energy billed and finally energy paid for. With less energy paid for by the customers or a reduced collection efficiency, the tariff automatically increases for the company to keep afloat. The alternative is for government to pay for the deficit as some countries have done, to maintain the tariff at the already high figure. If this fails, then subsidies have to be extended downstream to UEGCL.
NWSC will struggle to collect increased bills post COVID since their billing and payments are not automated. For some of us that are used to disposing off bills as they come, will be faced with a new challenge of paying for more than 5 months of a single bill. This is going to affect all water utility companies by reducing their bill collection efficiency. Water supply needs chemicals, transport for rapid response, technicians, energy and spares to keep service delivery efficient. I think that government will have to subsidise, as soon as possible, all water supply authorities in the country to keep them afloat, else we are in for a big surprise.
As of today the US has more than 30 million people who have filed for unemployment benefits. This means that they are documented and the system can identify them and they will be paid. I have been trying to find an estimate of the undocumented workers in the US. The Policy 2020 Brookings site gives an estimate of 10 -12 million. This will mean that more than 40 million people are unemployed in the US. How many people are already unemployed in Uganda and how many self employed people are now out of work? How will schools restart when parents have not been working and earning? Will private schools be subsidized for them to restart and offer the services they render to our country? Is government looking at the option of subsidising private schools to enable them restart without receiving fees from students? This is a new area our government has never thought about because resources are needed for other important items. Thanks to the Bat.
I have seen panic in Nation Media Group and New Vision over COVID19 by reducing staff payment by over 30%. This trend was expected because print media has been surviving on adverts and less on paper sales. Media influencers reach more people per day than print media in Uganda, it seems better to influence an influencer to influence his followers about your agenda than put an advert in a newspaper. I also see key employers in Uganda using socio-media to recruit staff. I hired 30 water professional (Engineers, hydrogeologists and technicians) in two days for a three months assignment and everything went perfectly well. I got people with the right qualifications, experience and attitude and we shook hands in the end. This is the real normal because with the advent of whatsapp, facebook and Twitter, the old normal is rapidly evaporating. Post Covid19 will dictate a different Modus Operandi. The Bat has made us run when we were walking.
What is Governments response to all this?
Our government is treating COVID19 as an ordinary epidemic that is simply more contagious. I hear statements like, we have fought Ebola, Locusts, Kony, floating vegetation and that we are doing well with covid19. I think that we have moved the shortest distance in the right direction. Now we have to restart life, then the economy and then live with covid19. We should have taken advantage of this crisis to beef up our health facilities but we have instead passed classified budgets, allocated allowances to those that will be relevant in electioneering.
We need to think different because we have never been here. Our government has proved that with all ministers in kampala, they cannot spend about USD 15 m in more than a month for food purchase and distribution. Now we know the capacity of the leaders we have.
Can our system do better than this?
We need a different set of leaders to get out of this situation. Different thinking, different motivation and different values. The Bat is taking us upside down.
God bless you all.
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