Some in the US did not believe the low cases from African countries. Evacuees arriving from other countries including African ones are shocked on the lack of protocol at American Airports. One arriving from DRC attested to the DRC actually has some protocols using the available capacity they used during Ebola.
Others in the media assumed that it was a matter of time. On April 21st, 2020 Vox published an article by Alex Ward titled “Africa has so far been spared the worst of the coronavirus. That could soon change”. The author acknowledged the swift action taken by African countries to contain the spread but suggested that lack of testing could explain the low cases. We are now in the second wave of the pandemic (2020/21), and most African countries with the exception of South Africa, are still recording low cases in comparison to many in Europe and North America.
Why is the exaggerated alarm from both African and international commentators and media? There is a combination of reasons but some of those that frequently occur are: Africa is continuously treated as a homogenous country and there is a constructed perception of Africa as a deathbed for diseases, and an incapacitated region. Many African countries do not have the capacity and technology equivalent to that of some developed countries in Europe, North America, and Asia. Yes, African countries have had some experience managing diseases but so do every other region. In the last two decades, there have been regional and global disease outbreaks - such as Swine Flu, SAR, Zika and etc. These outbreaks were not in African countries. This did not stop attributing the low spread of COVID-19 in African countries to frequent disease outbreaks in the region using Ebola as an example. Even though there were very few Ebola cases in some countries both within and outside Africa, the outbreak was in four West African countries - DRC, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Despite this, it is wrongly assumed that the Ebola outbreak happened in every African country, due to the way it is framed in the media.
There are various factors that could be attributed to the low cases of COVID in African countries (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-54418613). Whilst there have been challenges (low testing especially outside major cities) there are things African governments are doing right. My trip to Nigeria is testament to that.
Immediately, my flight was confirmed, I started paying more attention to COVID cases in Nigeria. I spoke with friends and family members and they assured me that it was safe. The assurance did not completely assuage my fear given the rate of the spread in the US. I researched the rate of transfer while inside the plane and planned to follow Naomi Campbell’s traveling routine. Nigeria has an official traveling protocol that requires anyone traveling to Nigeria to obtain a negative COVID-19 by a well-recognized and accredited clinic. The test is uploaded into the Nigerian traveling portal with details of my trips. This includes where I have traveled in the past two months, my contacts, and next of kin in Nigeria. Everywhere I planned to visit in Nigeria with detailed addresses and phone numbers. We are also required to pay an equivalent of $100 for a test a week after my arrival in Nigeria.
On arrival at the Abuja Airport Nigeria, the first stop after disembarking from the plane was to take the temperature of every passenger. Then, we proceed to the verification of our travel permit to confirm a negative COVID test and the payment for another test in a week's time. Having passed through this, we are to go through a full-body screening. All these include mandatory mask-wearing at the airport. When it is ascertained that you are negative, you are allowed to enter the country. A week after my arrival, I went for the test. In less than 24 hours, I got my negative result. It was another big relief.
In Abuja, people walk about casually with little restrictions. Physical locations such as malls and airports usually have personnel stationed at entrance points for security reasons. All they have had to do is give them temperature sensors and hand gel. Compare with America where a person is likely to feel their human rights are being attacked because a shop personnel with little experience of customer management is asking them to wear a mask. Nigeria already has these protocols entrenched for a number of reasons. There is more focus on contact tracing of those coming into the country because most cases are from outside the country.
My first week in Nigeria, there was a report of 700 cases. It became big news and chatter. I had a laugh at people's reaction to the 700 cases which were seen as a big spark. I said to a friend, that is less than the number of COVID-related deaths registered by a state in the US. Nigeria was generally safe and I was at peace’. It is interesting that I did not know how much the impact of COVID and its management in the US has affected me until I traveled to that ‘shithole’ country Nigeria. On our way back to the US, things were dangerously simple. We were asked to complete a COVID form on the flight but when we arrived, there was nobody asking questions about where we were coming from. The form I completed is still in my bag.
I have come to realize that some African countries have a more stringent protocol and strong tracing process. For instance, in Rwanda, if you are not wearing a mask in public, you will be required to go on 12 hours of training. African governments have been more like China and other Asian countries comfortable with stringent approaches that require testing at strategic points and as a precondition for entry. The UK has now decided to follow this procedure given its own out-of-control situation, but allowed inbound travel without testing for almost a year.
Africa as a region has its own problems but many countries in Africa are managing this pandemic better than expected. We understand there are governance challenges in some African countries, but when a country gets it right, let’s stop explaining it away but rather learn to apply the positive example to other areas. We are already into a new decade. It is time we stop treating the most heterogeneous continent as a homogenous country. This is a broken record but it has continued to happen. Instead of lazy reporting or using dummies to assess African countries, it would do everyone a favour especially foreign media to try visiting countries and report the reality instead of reports driven by false perceptions. Us shithole countries also have to take matters - and science - into our own hands, if we want to see the kinds of headlines that capture our reality. For example, are Africans looking at our blood samples to check whether Africans have higher rates of exposure/antibodies for coronaviruses. What are our scientists doing?