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It’s time to ease stiff lockdown measures and live with disease

By Tony Sisule | June 28th 2020 at 09:30:00 GMT +0300

Kenya took the fateful decision to lock down the country on April 12 to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease. Police offices ruthlessly enforced the orders that have disrupted the economy and people’s lives. Children languish at home without learning, sick people shy away from hospitals in fear of infection and quarantine, businesses laid off staff, and many enterprises have gone bust.

The first Covid-19 case was reported on March 12. As of June 26 there were 5,553 confirmed cases and 137 deaths. All lives matter and a death is one too many. The mortality rate trend, however, shows that the majority of those infected recover. By Friday, that number stood at 1,905.

There is a striking contrast in many governments’ reaction to more deadly diseases such as HIV and Aids and Ebola. According to a United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids, in 2018 Kenya had 1.6 million people living with HIV, 46,000 new annual cases and 25,000 deaths.

The US Centre for Disease Control estimates there are about 3.5 million new clinical cases of malaria that cause 10,700 deaths every year in Kenya.

Covid 19 Time Series

 

I worked for the United Nations in Sierra Leone from 2011 to 2017 where I was part of a team that supported the government and communities to fight Ebola.

We provided supplies for infection control, laboratory tests and treatment. The team also facilitated emergency education programmes for children, and transferred cash to the poor and those affected by Ebola to mitigate its impact.

The case fatality rate (CFR) of Covid-19, estimated at well below 10 per cent, cannot be compared with that of Ebola in West Africa. The US National Institute of Health computed a mean CFR of 63 per cent, with 16,444 confirmed cases and 11,310 deaths.

As the epidemic raged in Sierra Leone, businesses remained open except for a three-day lockdown to break the chain of transmission. Strict hygiene measures were implemented and travel continued with temperature checks and monitoring to enable contact tracing if a person presented with Ebola.

Many international flights carried on with operations thus enabling movement of medical supplies, personnel, as well as business people.

The recovery from Ebola was fairly swift due to these circumspect and benign measures.

The Covid-19 global lockdown is an overreaction and one wonders how the whole world could get it so wrong by completely ignoring past experiences in dealing with HIV, malaria and Ebola.

Tanzania and Sweden reacted differently and they are learning to live with Covid-19. They will be vindicated as their economies will be more resilient in recovery.

The proof that locking down nations is a mistake lies in the fact that even with the strict restrictions imposed in China, South Africa, India and other countries, the disease has not been stamped out months later.

Covid-19 is likely to persist like the flu and common cold so humans will adapt and develop a level of resilience to the illness. There are also positive developments in vaccine research that will help the world deal with the disease in future.

It is time to open up Kenya and the world so people can rebuild their businesses, children can learn and life can go on.

We should adhere to reasonable protocols issued by the authorities to minimise the risk of infection. But shutting down businesses that provide jobs and incomes for millions of Kenyans who have no social safety net, and keeping children from school for so long is a grave policy mistake.

The price of the current measures is too steep for most Kenyans. The preventable deaths from other diseases and suppressed cognitive growth of malnourished children in families that are growing poorer by the day is causing irreversible damage.

Those who lost their source of income after businesses collapsed have seen their dreams crumble even as they risk sinking into poverty. They also have no access to quality healthcare.

The children who have been home with no access to education due to the shambolic online learning programme will have no means of making up for the lost time. Children with better facilities in other nations will leap miles ahead in knowledge and skills.

The girls getting married off or sexually abused due to increasing poverty and perversion in society are losing their dignity; their dreams smothered and lives consigned to hopelessness. The price of the lockdown measures is too high. It is time to ease them and learn to live with this disease.

Mr Sisule is an adviser at the Permanent Delegation of the Commonwealth to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland @tonysisule


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