Coronavirus Pandemic Offers Vital Lessons

Published on 17th March 2020

Coronavirus, also named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization has caused a lot anxiety across the globe. This lethal virus which has no cure spreads through human contact and touching of infected surfaces.  Could its spread have been avoided? What lessons can we learn from how the HIV virus was handled in the past?

When the HIV virus was detected, I was at the University of Cambridge, Doing my PhD. This virus which allegedly originated from Africa was treated with a lot of caution. Posters were put all over. Africans or those who had been to Africa were not allowed to donate blood. Travel advisories were given. Health clinics were established in airports to advise people travelling to Africa on how to avoid infection from the virus.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, the current Coronavirus did not originate from Africa, but from a powerful country: China. Due to its power, China cannot be dismissed like the continent of Africa. It is for this reason that countries were neither willing to test travelers across China nor issue travel advisories to China. They believed that due to China’s clout, the virus could not be as risky as one that would have originated from Africa.

Reality has however dawned on the globe that human beings, regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation and status are all vulnerable. The virus does not obey boundaries, economic dogmas and class.  

The Coronavirus can affect any one regardless of age. So we should address it as a disease of the people.  We need to learn from the disease rather than hide in false temporary solutions of technology. While we can work and teach remotely, human interaction becomes inevitable. We need to be human and restore justice in our global interactions.

There is much panic across the world. Schools, churches and other institutions have been closed.Public gatherings are prohibited. Human contact is supposed to be minimized as much as possible to evade the spread of the virus.

As Desmond Tutu puts it, we are inextricably connected to each other. We need to treat each with fairness and humanness. When Nations leave health insurance to the vagaries of the market which makes it only accessible to a select few, when the virus strikes, it does not select one who has an insurance or another one who does not have. Both the insured and the non-insured suffer.

Another lesson has to do with underfunding of basic research. Universities and research institutes are directing their funding to research that brings in money immediately. Basic research that seeks knowledge for knowledge’s sake to satisfy curiosity from observed phenomenon in our everyday life is being disregarded. A curious researcher may have observed the interactions between humans and the sources of coronavirus. Unfortunately, such research would have been considered a waste of time. Failure to do so has led us to going back to the basics.

Is this the beginning of the destruction of the corporation and factory system that made people to stop working from homes as outlined by Karl Polanyi?  By being isolated in our homes, we are going to learn the importance of having others around us. We take people working with us for granted and seek to destroy them as we fulfill the ideals of the corporation.

Those with homes with many and large rooms have no problem. They have space to sit and work. When bored, they can move from one to room to the other.  Think of the many people living in single rooms, bed-sitters or slum dwellings in many of our African cities.  This is an opportune time to rethink our housing. Realtors are known to economize on room space so that they can have more rooms to make money from. It is time to rethink this get rich quickly room space that goes against standard habitat requirements.

Working from home and remaining in the home will most likely stress the male gender who are not used to stay in the home and spend time discussing politics and daily happenings during traffic jams. It will also stress people who are used to patronize entertainment joints to while away time.

This is the time for media to broadcast interesting and informative programs to keep people busy in the home. Electricity generating companies should ensure that there are no power cuts as consumption will be high.  Consumption in the families will also increase forcing parents to dig deeper in their pockets.

The coronavirus is about people. It will bring out the best or worst in us. It will call for brave and responsible people who will invest their time and resources to come up with a vaccine, sanitize spaces of human operations, take care of the sick and generally seek to see their neighbours cope with this scourge. On the contrary, the worst of us will be revealed as they hoard goods, hike prices, discriminate against the sick, and stop showing kindness to the affected and infected.

By Mary Njeri Kinyanjui PhD. 

The author is an Independent Scholar. [email protected]

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