COVID-19 RECOVERY EFFORTS AND IMPERATIVES FOR DEVELOPMENT SUSTAINABILITY IN AFRICA

In December 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that a novel coronavirus from the family of Human Coronaviruses (HCoVs) named COVID-19 attacked China and was likely to spread globally. WHO officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic on 11 March 2020, and by 13 March 2020 Europe became the epicentre of the pandemic. But by April 2020 the epicentre shifted to the United States (US) where over 100,000 deaths were recorded by May 2020. The fast spread of COVID-19 and the high number of deaths linked to it, especially in the advanced countries (including fast developing countries) with sophisticated health emergency response capacities, is unprecedented. COVID-19 is of unknown origin, although available evidence indicates that it may be more contagious than the earlier HCoVs. Infection is person-to-person via airborne respiratory droplets, direct contact with body fluids or secretions, and by having contact with contaminated objects. The risk of an infection is high because it has an average incubation period of 14 days, far longer than that for other influenzas. This means that except by voluntary testing people hardly know when they are infected and can pass it on within several days before any symptoms appear. Available demographic evidence indicates that aging persons are more vulnerable than younger persons. Also persons who travel more (often of the higher income class) are vulnerable. Since airports and travel destinations are generally located in and around the urban areas or cities, the urban dwellers are more vulnerable. WHO has recommended a number of prevention/containment measures, such as regular handwashing, use of face mask, social distancing, voluntary testing, and self-quarantining if or when symptoms of the infection (basically cold, sneezing, fever, numbness, breathing difficulties, etc) are observed or noticed.

A specific drug/vaccine for treating COVID-19 is yet to be discovered, but the combination of chloroquine and an antibiotic, erythromycin (the so-called dual therapy of Dr. Didier Raoult) (Schneider, 2020; Sahoo, Paidesetty and Padhy, 2020) has been found to give infected persons significant relief, and is being adopted as the clinical treatment for the pandemic in several countries, even though WHO has voiced reservations. Albeit if and when a drug/vaccine for COVID-19 is discovered, it may still not prevent future recurrences due to the high mutative tendencies of the virus, which renders the strains transmitted to successive hosts biochemically different. By this, it is logical to expect for instance that a COVID-21 or 22 epidemic/pandemic may likely occur, regardless of whether or not a potent drug/vaccine is found for COVID-19. Therefore with possibility of a resurgence, boosting immunity to wade off HCoVs now and in the future is the most sustainable approach to adopt, perhaps alongside the dual therapy and the WHO recommended restrictive measures.

 

One may argue also that COVID-19 is novel, not just for being a new member of the HCoVs family, but its weird microbial identity. If a combination of chloroquine and an antibiotic is effective for its treatment as evidenced, then is COVID-19 indeed a virus, parasite, bacteria or a hybrid of various microbial forms? Classically, viral infections are hardly treated with a combination of an anti-parasite and an antibiotic. In other words, if chloroquine (a drug for malaria parasite) plus erythromycin (a broad-spectrum antibiotic for treatment of bacterial infections notably typhoid fever) is used effectively to treat COVID-19, then it needs to be investigated further what COVID-19 indeed is. Moreover, it is evidenced also that administering the dual therapy alongside plant-based foods and herbal supplements hasten recovery of infected persons. This points to possible complementarities of clinical therapies and plant-based foods and herbal supplements for the treatment of COVID-19 and perhaps other ailments. Thus, one can safely argue that the fewer deaths and high recovery levels from COVID-19 infection (mostly without any form of treatment administered) recorded in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) may be because averagely the population there traditionally consume foods that are rich in plant/herbal materials, and hence have built reasonably immune to the virus. This may explain why although prevailing hygiene and socioeconomic conditions there appear comfortable for speedy propagation of COVID-19, fatalities are quite minimal relative to what obtains in the advanced countries. These arguments are explored in greater detail in this work.

 

Equally discussed here are postulations that Africa will have to contend with more severe medium to long term socioeconomic fallouts of COVID-19 in terms of job losses, shrinking household incomes, heightened criminality and state fragility, and possible reversal of gains already made on poverty alleviation. But as logical as such postulations may sound, it fails to take into account the fact that COVID-19 has equally thrown open opportunities and possibilities that African countries can utilize to leapfrog to global socioeconomic relevance. In particular, production niches can be created around processing and marketing of immune boosting plant-based foods and herbal supplements, which the world needs now to help overcome possible resurgences of newer generations of HCoVs and other deadly diseases. Also, while leading pharmaceutical firms are battling to produce COVID-19 drug/vaccine, the Madagascar’s organics and other African herbal cures were already in use less than 3 months into the pandemic; thus showing that African Traditional Medicine (ATM) therapies are not only effective, but have proven to be efficient. Additionally, African countries can nurture health tourism around ATM. A related point articulated here is that Africa’s huge population of unemployed youths can be supported to migrate abroad to help fill the obvious human resource gaps created in many advanced countries with high numbers COVID-19 related deaths. Moreover, COVID -19 has brought to fore the need to adopt concerted and cooperative approaches to dealing with problems at all levels, because the action/inaction of even a single individual can be very costly, globally.

 

The remaining part of this paper is divided into five section, and then a conclusion. Section I discusses the leading conspiracy theories advanced to explain the origin of COVID-19. The multiplicity of conspiracy theories helped to dampen how many Africans perceived the risks posed by the pandemic. Section II focuses on the prevention/containment measures adopted by selected African countries. Section III analyses the widely held postulation that Africa will suffer more socioeconomic fallouts of COVID-19 than other continents. Section IV explores the health economy of ATM, while Section V emphasizes why the global community requires concerted and cooperative approaches for dealing with human/societal problems at all levels. In conclusion, it is noted that the world generally and Africa in particular will be better off if the lessons offered by COVID-19 are taken seriously.

I. One Disease Vs Several Conspiracy Theories

In December 2019, WHO reported that a new virus from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) Coronaviruses (SARS-CoVs) family called COVID-19 began to spread across China and may spread to other countries. Although less deadly than the earlier SARS-CoVs, it was considered more contagious and capable of person-to-person transmission via airborne respiratory droplets, direct contact with body fluids or secretions, or by handling contaminated objects (WHO, 2020). Preventing the transmission of COVID-19 is considered more difficult because people hardly know if and when they are infected, given an average incubation period of 14 days that is much longer than the about 2 days for earlier influenzas. Therefore, infected persons may transmit the virus before any symptoms appear. WHO officially declared a pandemic on 11 March 2020, and by 13 March 2020 Europe was already the epicentre of the pandemic. Italy adopted full quarantine on 9 March 2020 (Bourdin et al, 2020). The United Kingdom (UK), Spain and France were heavily affected and also adopted restrictive measures. From April 2020, fatalities in the US began to top the rest of the world (with over 100,000 deaths announced by the end of May 2020).

 

COVID-19 infection is currently the most serious global health challenge, accounting for an ever increasing number of deaths. The threat it poses is worrisome from the biochemical perspective because its chemical structure is continually transformed as new hosts are infected, making successive strains difficult to eliminate using previously potent clinical therapies. This capacity for continuing mutation implies that new generations of COVID-19 may resurge in the near future. It is also worrisome that so far epidemiological studies are unable to identify its origins. Available demographic evidence indicates that aging persons (especially those having severe cardiovascular diseases like hypertension, diabetes, renal malfunctioning, stroke, and obesity) are more vulnerable than younger persons. Equally, wealthy persons (perhaps because they travel more often) are more vulnerable than the less mobile low-income population. Hence the surge in air transportation has fostered a jumping mode of diffusion for air-borne and person-to-person transmissible diseases, like COVID-19. Also, since airports, travel destinations, industries and major residential hubs cluster in and around the urban centres, it follows that urban/city dwellers are more vulnerable (Bourdin et al, 2020).

 

The sudden and fast spread of COVID-19 and its microbial identity questions may have warranted the emergence of a multitude of conspiracy theories around it (Medical Futurist, 2020). The leading conspiracy theories are summarized below:

  • Some Christian preachers link COVID-19 to the anti-Christ hypotheses. A notable voice here is Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, a popular Nigerian tele-evangelist. Summarily, he opines that while there was indeed a Wuhan Flu, it was not responsible for all the deaths attributed to COVID-19. What caused more deaths were radiations from newly installed G5 masts. He predicts that the next line of action may be an enforced vaccination aiming to achieve internet connectivity of the human body.
  • A number of politicians and scientists notably from the US are associating the COVID-19 outbreak to a research project on the impact of HCoVs on bates at a diseases research center located in Wuhan. They submit that the research received substantial funding of the US government. However, proponents of this view are divided on how the virus got out of the research center to infect people: some argue that the Chinese authorities released it to help reduce its aging population, while others think it was mistakenly released. Arguments within this group include as well the so-called Agenda 2020, aiming to generally reduce the global population. It is noteworthy also that the US President, Donald Trump, has accused WHO of conniving with China to hatch COVID-19 to destabilize the world and turn US citizens against him in the upcoming US elections of 2020.
  • Another line of conspiracy theories points to a deliberate attempt by China to destabilize the world with the pandemic for a systematic takeover of global economic leadership from the US and it European allies. For instance, the Tanzanian President recently raised an alarm that Chinese ventilators used in most African countries were producer-infected with COVID-19. He argues also that the test kits barely tested for the symptoms and not the virus infection. Hence, it is possible that many of those tested, confined or quarantined or even declared dead may not have been infected by COVID-19 in the first place, since its symptoms are similar to those of other less deadly ailments. This view corroborates an earlier declaration by the Director of the Nigerian Center for Diseases Control (NCDC) that over 95% of quarantined persons in Nigeria recovered by themselves, without any drug administered (Jimoh, 2020).

 

The overall effect of the multitude of conspiracy theories has been a generally lowered risk perception for COVID-19 among the population in SSA, especially. No doubt, the number of persons voluntarily adopting the WHO recommended measures has increased, but a greater number are forced to adopt them due to possible harassment by enforcement operatives and fines chargeable for non-compliance. Indeed, as is discussed in the next Section, what appeared to have weighed more on the population in a number of countries were the restrictive measures, especially lockdowns/daytime curfews and intra-country travel bans. The situation was compounded by the fact that the names, pictures and addresses of many supposedly infected/dead persons were hardly made public as done in other climes. In a number of instances family members of those announced to have died of COVID-19 come up with stunning evidences to the contrary. The non-disclosure of adequate information on infected/dead persons has caused many Africans to believe that the numbers (of infected/dead persons) announced in their respective countries were most likely exaggerated. Equally doubtful are the claims of funds spent on COVID-19 prevention/containment. Although unproven, the popular street-talk is that a few government officials were taking advantage of the pandemic to enrich themselves. The broad view is that Africans, especially the population in SSA, do not face the same fatality risks like the people in advanced countries. This line of argument appears logical given the mutative character of the virus, especially also because significant immunity may have been built for COVID-19 after repeated treatment for malaria and typhoid fever with the dual therapy or related set of drugs. Thus without massive sensitization and adequate information provided to further explain the seriousness of COVID-19, and as well justify the huge funds purportedly spent for its prevention/containment, the most popular view may remain that reported number of infected/death persons were exaggerated.

 

 

II. COVID-19 Prevention/Containment Measures: Lesson sharing among African Countries

Once a COVID-19 pandemic was declared by WHO on 11 March 2020, African countries joined the rest of the world to mobilize resources for its prevention/containment. But except in a few cases, the general approach was to replicate the measures adopted in advanced countries with hardly any preliminary researches to nationally determine the health risks posed by the pandemic, the capacity to effectively implement the restrictive measures, and possible unintended consequences of the different restrictive measures (Mumbere, 2020). One can rightly say that a key lesson presented by COVID-19 is that best practice is not necessarily best fit: each country/region needed to tailor the response measures to suit its peculiar realities rather than jump to join the bandwagon. The main measures adopted by selected African countries and how it impacted on their populations are summarized below:

A. Lockdowns

According to the African Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), Rwanda was the first to implement a national lockdown, and then South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Uganda. Also, Ghana, Nigeria and Namibia imposed partial lockdowns. The conditions of partial/total lockdowns included suspension of most business operations, movement of vehicles, and strict curfews enforced by security agencies (ACSS, 2020). However it is widely held that given; (1) high poverty levels, (2) weak implementation capacities, (3) absence of institutionalized frameworks for managing different types of emergencies, and (4) poorly organized and funded social protection programmes, lockdowns caused avoidable starvation, desperation, and widespread anger, particularly among the larger poor population. Clashes between citizens defying movement restrictions and security forces caused a number of persons to suffer injuries in Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, and Uganda. Generally, public dissatisfaction was high in nearly all countries where lockdown lasted even for a week (ACSS, 2020).

 

B. Economic relief

Nigeria and Zimbabwe announced cash transfer programmes for 10 million individuals and 1 million households respectively. Uganda and Rwanda distributed food and other emergency rations during the enforced lockdowns. In Botswana, a wage subsidy totaling 1 billion pula ($84 million) was provided to small businesses as an incentive to retain their employees during the shutdown. In addition, government contributed 50 percent of the basic salary of furloughed citizens and or permanent residents for 3 months, along with a subsidy of 1,000-2,000 pula ($80-$168) per month to meet basic needs. Kenya, Eritrea and Cameroon announced a raft of tax, rent and interest payment reliefs. However, it needs to be assessed how transparently the economic reliefs were implemented, especially in countries where accurate demographic data is scarce, making it easier for the support/relief materials to be pocketed by the officials without being traced.

 

C. Travel bans

Cameroon, Republic of Congo, South Africa, Kenya and Uganda were among the first to impose travel bans for a limited period. However, Morocco, Senegal and Ivory Coast imposed restrictive measures against travelers from high-risk countries. Incidentally, the later set of countries recorded the highest number of infected cases. Globally, evidence supports the effectiveness of international flight ban to localize the infection. But the same cannot be said of intercity or intra-city mobility which were also restricted especially were total lockdowns were implemented. For Cameroon intercity and intra-city movements of persons were allowed, although quite strategically monitoring teams were placed along major travel routes to test the travelers; a testing opportunity that total lockdown did not offer. Senegal’s COVID-19 task force also established numerous mobile response teams equipped to respond immediately and take samples when illnesses were reported.

 

D. Quarantining

Cameroon, Nigeria, and Uganda announced self-quarantine for travelers from low-risk areas and involuntary quarantining for travelers from China, US, France, Germany, Spain, Iran and UK who came into the country some weeks before the pandemic was declared. At the same time, persons who tested positive were involuntarily quarantined.

 

Furthermore, nearly all African countries created presidential or national task forces for effective coordination of the multifaceted emergency response efforts. A welcome development, according to the ACSS, is how the task forces engaged in information exchanges and lesson sharing. In a number of cases, the African Regional Economic Communities (RECs) served as the anchor facilitating the linkages between the various task forces (ACSS, 2020). Equally, educational institutions at all levels were closed and pupil/students made to return home. Also, although widely criticized, the Tanzanian president, John Magufuli, stands out for questioning the veracity of the COVID-19 risks and refusing to implement severe restrictive measures. Magufuli as well questioned the professionalism of the national laboratory (Kwayu, 2020). He advised the people to boost their immunity by consuming more spices and adopting the hot-steam therapy, and openly requested for the Madagascar organics. Cameroon acted much differently from other countries: although not questioning the WHO’s restrictive measures, but lockdowns were not implemented and intercity movements were allowed. The few restrictive measures implemented lasted for only 6 weeks. Markets and farming activities were also not disrupted during the 6 week restriction period.

Another key point to emphasize was the unnecessary use of force in countries where lockdowns were imposed. As rightly noted by Amartya Sen (Professor of economics and 1998 economics Nobel laureate) about India’s handling of COVID-19 prevention/containment (Kwayu, 2020), tackling a social calamity should not be equated to fighting (industrial age) war, where a leader could use top-down power to order people around without proper consultation. Dealing with a social problem like a pandemic requires utmost sensitivity to the concerns and needs of the population whose cooperation is needed for the measures to be effectively implemented. The outcome of forcefully enforced lockdowns as summed by Deutsche Welle (2020) was that rather than check the spread of COVID-19, the populations (especially the poor) were avoidably dehumanized and exposed to avoidable hunger, violence and despair.

III. Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic for Development Sustainability in Africa

Many observers are of the view that Africa may continue to account for less COVID-19 deaths, but recovery from the associated socioeconomic fallouts may take much longer in the continent than in other regions. Without doubt, a COVID-19 cut down in production and travels will affect the global economy adversely, and trickle down more heavily on the poorer African economies (UN, 2020; World Bank, 2020)). In particular, major oil exporters like Algeria, Libya, Nigeria, Angola, Congo, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea are likely to be severely affected (Devecioglu, 2020). Also as Evans (2020) rightly opines, the situation of states already fragile due to corruption, internal or regional insurgencies, and famine will further worsen, because as social solidarity and governmental authority continue to weaken, incidences of completely failed states may occur. UNECA (2020) notes that since currently urban centers account for 64% of Africa’s average GDP, slow down of businesses there may dampen overall economic growth prospects. Additionally, approximately 250 million SSA informal urban operators are at risk of livelihood losses. These risks are compounded by hike in the cost of living, and a consequent fall in urban consumption and expenditure on food, manufactured goods, utilities, transport, energy and services.

 

Keane (2020) opines that achievement of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs by the Less Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) may be delayed because the pandemic has affected the three major hubs of the global economy – Asia, Europe and the US – who are also the top trading partners of many LDCs and SIDS. In this connection, it is estimated that the global economy has lost over US$2 trillion due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is unprecedented. Understandably, a general downturn of the global economy will affect the poorer economies more. Moreover, the fact that many SSA countries have small domestic markets and lowly diversified economies render them highly vulnerable to external shocks, as past global financial crises demonstrated. But while the above views are generally agreeable, the fact remains that the internal policies and programmes of each countries can go a long way to ameliorate the impact of external shocks and stimulate growth. In particular, prudent management of available finances and tying domestic production activities and consumption preferences to locally sourced endowments will reduce external dependency significantly. Besides, being a small economy is not necessarily a reason to be excessively dependent.

 

Another COVID-19 fallout that may delay the recovery of African economies is the worsening of external indebtedness. In the view of Mukoya (2020), corporate and sovereign-debt defaults are likely to increase due to falling export earnings. The IMF reports that already 90 developing countries have approached it for financial assistance, and immediate debt relief has been arranged for 25 low-income member countries, by using grant resources to cover their multilateral debt-servicing obligations for a six month period. It is certain that these interventions may not go far, and that increased indebtedness/cost of debt-servicing due to COVID-19 may delay recovery from the pandemic much longer than anticipated. Also China being the leading official bilateral lender to African countries in recent years may not be willing to cancel or reduce substantially Africa’s indebtedness to ease recovery from the pandemic. But acting together under the auspices of the African RECs and the AU, it is possible to negotiate some measure of debt forgiveness from China. Aside from having a lot more businesses to do in economically healthier African countries, China needs to take more responsibility for this pandemic, beyond the donation of medical supplies (widely described as facemask diplomacy), because it originated within its territory.

 

More importantly, it should be noted that recovery from COVID-19 economic downturn will depend on the prevention/containment measures adopted by the respective African countries. In this regard, since leading regional economic powers of SSA - notably Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, and Uganda - adopted lockdowns/daytime curfews, the resulting productivity losses did not affect their national economies only, but spilled over to the economies of their close neighbours/trading partners within the continent. Particularly for Africa’s biggest economies - Nigeria and South Africa - the productivity loss spillovers may have extended to several other countries, within the continent. In addition to the cross-border trade losses, food crises may be likely if the lockdowns slowed down farming (given that March - June is farming season in many SSA countries). The combined effect of a fall in farm output and cross-border trade losses would severely reduce the incomes of informal workers (who account for as high as 80% of the total workforce). Some of them may have lost their capital already, and will find it very difficult to resume their businesses when the lockdowns are called off. Also, the brutal manner that the lockdowns were enforced may not just turn them against the state, but as well fan the embers of insurrection and criminality. This applies as well to displaced persons and those in refugee camps, whose conditions could have also worsen.

 

As reported by Evans (2020), the aid/support and economic stimulus packages provided to assuage the situation were hardly able to compensate for the in-country losses, talk less of the cross-border spillover losses that are hardly taken into account. In nearly all the countries that implemented lockdowns/daytime curfews, the popular view, though unverified, it that the COVID-19 palliatives served more as conduits for top civil servants/political elites to enrich themselves. Moreover, in many African countries, emergencies are managed using ad hoc committees that are disbanded thereafter and little institutional memory and infrastructure are accumulated to help out when new emergencies arise. This is unlike in most advanced countries where the lessons from previous emergencies are accumulated within the emergency management institutions. But in many African countries, task forces are created with fresh appointments made and often new offices hired each time an emergency situation emerges. Given the afore-mentioned weaknesses, it was seriously counterproductive to adopt lockdowns because it unnecessarily disrupted the coping strategies of the larger proportion of the population, the informal operators, and can justify why post COVID-19 socioeconomic recovery may take much longer in Africa than elsewhere.

 

Equally Wijk (2020) rightly observes that closure of schools for many months without providing adequately for home learning to compensate for the loss of classroom learning will have a longer term effect on young learners. Few African governments took into consideration the high cost of switching to elearning, in terms of poor and irregular internet connectivity, exorbitant cost of data and exploitative billing systems adopted by GSM providers, poor electricity supply, and inadequate prior preparation for the elearning switch, especially in the rural areas where more children and the poor live. Poorly accessible and expensive home learning options in many African countries discriminate against children of the poor, who quite frankly need education more to help their families out of poverty faster. UNESCO has launched some interventions targeting children living in non-stimulating or difficult environment, but few countries have committed adequate resources to scale-up the initiatives nationally. Wijk (2020) opines further that closure of schools even for a short time without adequately supported or subsidized home learning alternatives for the poor could induce higher dropout and lower graduation rates in the medium to long term. Hence, rather than close schools for many weeks/months options like use of face masks and improved hygiene measures in schools should have been considered. After all, as evidenced, children are relatively less vulnerable to COVID-19 fatalities.

 

Generally, a key lesson for African policy makers and political leaders from COVID-19 is that it will not always be possible to go cap-in-hand begging for help, because the traditional external aid/loan providers can also be in trouble and need help as well, as is the case now. Hence looking-inwards nationally and continentally is vital. Particularly, promoting intra-African trade will grow continental value chains and progressively reduce the need for foreign currencies notably the US Dollar and the Euro. At the level of national economies, unemployed out-of-school youths desirous of oversea travel opportunities can be empowered with Accelerated Technical Learning Programmes (ATLPs) and logistic support to ease/facilitate their travel and aid them find jobs in the destination countries. This is premised on the assumption that migrant labour may be needed to fill human resource gaps caused by COVID-19 related deaths in the advanced countries. This will help reduce unemployment and its associated risks, provide opportunities for the learning of new skills that may be useful to the home country upon their return, and as well increase remittances inflows.

 

IV. The Health Economy of African Herbal Therapies

As Mukoya (2020) rightly noted, despite having multifarious socioeconomic challenges, Africans have enormous natural endowments and cultural assets to fall back on in times of crises. For instance, the extended family system is still highly dependable. Also, valuable is ATM that is generally founded on locally sourced plant and non-plant natural materials and supernatural invocations. Africans have also developed significant socioeconomic resilience from a long history of poverty, wars, natural disasters and epidemics. Hence what may be considered hysterical in many advanced countries, can easily be joked over in many Africans societies. Also thanks to COVID-19, it is now evidenced that consuming more plant-based diet and herbal supplements, as most traditional Africans still do, can help boost immunity for the deadliest pandemic so far experienced in recent history. This health economic opportunity can be exploited gainfully by Africans and African governments by: (1) propagating, producing, processing and marketing immune boosting plant-based foods and herbal medicaments to prevent/contain COVID-19/resurging HCoVs in the future and other deadly diseases (and promote micronutrient security), and (2) effectively organize and invest in creating health tourism niches around ATM.

 

However, it must be noted that ATM cures for several ailments is now new. Among many Africans it is common knowledge that there are ATM cures for insanity, diabetes, stroke, obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, hypertension, complex fractures, and a host of other ailments. In a number of instances where the conventional clinical therapies appear to be failing, patients are withdrawn from hospitals to ATM healing homes. But despite being evidently successful in several instances, the tendency especially among educated Africans is to minimize or ignore ATM, hence very little is done by many national governments to support, regulate and incentivize the activities of ATM practitioners. Many of the herbal and non-herbal materials used by ATM practitioners are still in the wild, and the possibility of losing them totally is high given the fast rate of urbanization and low interest of educated youths to join the sector. The tendency to equate ATM to Satanism has been quite high, but thanks to COVID-19 the global respect for African herbal medication is likely to grow, and this offers national governments opportunity to build income yielding niches around it. But a mindset shift is required for the national governments, African Development Bank (AfDB), and African RECs and the AU to accord ATM the rightful place it deserves as an effective and efficient therapeutic approach that can be used alongside the conventional clinical therapies. In particular, educated Africans must stop living in denial of their traditional realities; being educated need not amount to alienation from ones traditional roots. The argument here is not on the relative superiority of ATM over conventional medicine or otherwise, but rather the possibility of mainstreaming ATM into the healthcare delivery systems with achieving overall wellness as the ultimate goal.

 

A key value that ATM will add to the healthcare delivery mix is the fact that diseases are broadly conceived as having spiritual or metaphysical origins first before manifesting as bodily (physiological and or psychological) malfunctioning. This contrasts with the conventional clinical therapies that are directly focused on the bodily malfunctioning. Hence while conventional medicine sees ailments largely in the objective (physical or material) realm as bodily dis-eases cause by germs and accidents, ATM practitioners are generally of the view that there is harmony in nature and germs do not just attack people randomly/accidents do not just occur. People become sick when they disobey or fail to respect natural laws, and germs/accidents are essentially agents deployed by natural forces to restore the natural harmony/equilibrium disrupted by the disregard/disrespect for the natural laws. Thus the spiritual/metaphysical treatment has to be done hand-in-hand with treatment of the bodily/manifest ailment.

 

It is interesting to note that the approach adopted in ATM is consistent with both classical/Newtonian and quantum physics. For example, the believe that ailments do not occur randomly, or that something causes a germ attack or an accident to occur, is consistent with Newton’s first law of motion (that is, matter remains in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line except an external factor causes it to do otherwise). Also, that the anomaly causing the germs attack/accident has to be appeased or treated (physically and spiritually) to achieve a return to normalcy and cure of the manifest ailment is consistent with Newton’s third law that all actions have equal and opposite reaction. In other words, diseases are reactions to naturally dis-equilibrating actions (often disobeying certain natural laws), and the cure has to fully neutralize the bodily and spiritual reaction. Interestingly also, ATM is consistent with quantum physics in the sense of seeing the manifest bodily disease as originating or being reducible to unseen (non-finite) quanta particles, consciousness or spirits. Basically, quantum physics has shown that all material forms or manifestation are decomposable to invisible quanta-particles, light-energy fields, consciousness or spirits (Maldonado (2018). Already as Taylor-Smiths (2019) observes, application of quantum physics is revolutionizing nearly all the sciences and technology fields, including medicine. It is noteworthy therefore, that while modern scientists are still debating on how to fully mainstream quantum physics into conventional medicine and other science and technology fields, ATM is not only founded on classical (Newtonian) physics and but has as well stoically achieved the linking of bodily diseases (matter) to their spiritual or metaphysical (spiritual) causes.

 

As Akpomuvie (2014) rightly notes, broadly in ATM it is believed that some of the factors (actions) that can cause diseases are sorcery, breach of taboo, spirit intrusion, contact with diseased objects (leading to spiritual transferences), wickedness, disobedience of parents/ancestors, invocation of ghosts of the dead, and acts of the gods. Once the spiritual origin/cause of the diseases is identified, it is easier to understand the ailment/effect, and then take appropriate corrective measures (appeasements and treatment) to restore physical and metaphysical wholeness. The corrective spiritual action can be prayers/incantations, libation, sacrifices, or restitution. Interestingly, an increasing number of ATM practitioners have incorporated x-rays, laboratory test, ultra-scans, etc to help deal effectively with the physical/manifest ailment.

 

Also, ATM therapies when appropriately applied on time are cheaper than conventional clinical therapies because a single herbal mixture can treat several ailments because it attacks the diseases tree from the root. Moreover, a significant number of materials used to prepare herbal mixtures are largely plant-based and most probably rich in micronutrients. Equally, an increasing number of herbal mixtures are becoming adaptable to manufactured food items and drinks. For example, the use of apple cider vinegar, baking soda, and manufactured drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), etc. in herbal therapies is increasing. This points to possible convergence or adaptability of ATM to conventional medicine if the possibilities are seriously explored. Furthermore, the health economic benefits of investing in ATM is enormous. A wellness revolution built around ATM will promote health and micronutrient security globally. Additionally, conservation of natural endowments, agricultural productivity, scientific innovation, and health tourism can as well be promoted to the extent of leapfrogging the ATM sector and practitioners to join global health products’ supply chains.

 

But to begin, it will be necessary to organize the ATM sector/practitioners hierarchically from the level of local associations (or basic communities of practice) to regional networks, and national federations. In addition to information exchanges and promoting cross-learning, the representational structure will serve as collaborative platforms linking the ATM practitioners to support sources, markets and processing innovations. The respective national federations can collaborate at the regional/continental levels. As the hierarchical representational structuring of the ATM sector is ongoing, national governments should spearhead the funding of researches into ATM and related cultural practices. This should the profiling traditional foods and their micronutrient content. The spiritual practices and their significance should be researched on also. The underlying assumption should be that our ancestors, despite their limited scientific knowledge successfully nurtured healing therapies that served their needs adequately. So like Japanese, Malaysians, Chinese, Iranians, Koreans, and Indians, present-day Africans should strive to modernize traditional practices and cultures, without losing their primary traditional essence. Modern science should serve as the quintessential un-refracting yet magnifying lens to help explore the natural environment and natural endowments so as to utilize them optimally.

 

Our forests are not just rich with timber and non-timber products, but also with several unnamed weeds/small plants, animals, and algae that are healthy for consumption and or useful for industry. So no stone should be left unturned; the process of identifying, naming, and investigating everything that the forests and seas offer should be invested in and followed up in earnest. The comprehensive search for the African reality should extend also to how the ATM practices can be passed on to the younger generation without compromising their education and wellbeing: there are still several diviners, prophets, seers, rain-makers, and fortune-tellers whose capabilities are not in doubt. For example, traditional methods are being used in some countries by the police to extract confessional statements from criminals. There are charms/invocations that protect individuals from gun shots. Rain-makers are able to stop/cause rain. These supernatural powers are still commonplace in many African countries, but what is of urgent need is to understand and use them for solving problems and ensuring inward-looking development sustainability.

 

V. Necessity of Concerted and Cooperative Governance

As Devecioglu (2020) rightly observes, COVID-19 outbreak has reminded the global community that in today’s highly interconnected world a problem created even by an individual (whether deliberate or mistaken) can spread to the rest of the world in no time. Incidentally, solving a globalized problem is not as easy as creating it. Indeed some problems once globalized are never completely solved and may just have to be managed. Hence it is preferable to prevent problems from degenerating by adopting concerted and cooperative governance approaches at all levels of human association and socioeconomic exchanges, from individual/families, through the community/civil society, to the national, continental and global levels. The advantage of concerted and cooperative governance frameworks is that it identifies the needs and vulnerabilities of all parties, while as well sharing responsibilities accordingly. With regards to COVID-19 prevention/containment and post-recovery development sustainability for African countries, the following key stakeholders and corresponding responsibilities are recommended:

 

  • Individual/family Responsibilities – voluntarily adoption of the WHO recommended measures, and other complementary health seeking behavioural responses. Using every available space to create home/family gardens for cultivating immune boosting vegetables and spices. Avoiding self-medication as much as possible, but ensuring that sick family members are supported to obtain the appropriate medical attention.
  • Community level/Civil Society Responsibilities – rallying support to help sick persons access the necessary help on time, mobilize the population to implement the WHO recommended measures, advocating for necessary health sector reforms through active representation in the electoral process and activism in pressure/lobby groups, and support for the identification and conservation of community forests with herbal and non-herbal ATM materials.
  • National level Responsibilities – support the ATM sector with researches, training, creation of communities of practice and centres of excellence, propagation and mass cultivation of plant-based foods and herbal materials, and mass public sensitization to grow demand for ATM healing therapies.
  • Regional/Continental level Responsibilities – anchor information exchanges and experience sharing across national/regional ATM federations, local and international research institutions, and facilitate dialogue between UN agencies and ATM federations.

More generally, it is important that the information exchanges and lesson sharing achieved by the different national COVID-19 task forces with the African RECs/AU as anchors should to institutionalized and extended to other aspects of socioeconomic development. Serious attention should be paid to promoting cross-border trade, regional infrastructure projects, and joint counterinsurgency operations. The AU, AfDB and African RECs have to restructure their mandates to prioritize serving as clearing houses/one-stop-shops for intra-African trade creation and investment promotion. Equally embassies/high commissions/consulates of African countries should have specific departments/units for commercial diplomacy and intra-African trade/investment promotion. This can indeed make them viable and self-sustaining. For example, the Kenyan high commission in Nigeria, can help Kenyans take advantage of trade/investment opportunities in Nigeria, even as the Nigerian mission in Kenya does the same. Minimal fees can be charged for such business/investment facilitation services. Similar services can be offered by dedicated departments/units of the AfDB, the African RECs, and the AU. African unity and solidarity, and the overall success of Pan-Africanism in the present era will depend more on how fast intra-African trading/investments increases. The relaunch of a post-modernist Pan-Africanism spearheaded by African, and not Afro-Americans as is has been in the past, is long overdue. It should be of utmost concern that although the AU is older than the EU, so little has been achieved in terms of the robustness of intra-African trade and investments.

Globally, the concerted and cooperative governance framework has to be founded on the premise that today’s world is a global village; and what happens in one location sooner than later affects others. Hence, mercantilist models that seek the good of a single nation at the expense, or without consideration, of others is short-lived. Additionally, a key lesson of COVID-19 pandemic is that preventing/curing certain diseases is not just about sophisticated conventional medical capabilities but more sustainably about immune boosting and prevention of micronutrients malnutrition. To buttress this fact, two countries with the most advanced health emergency surveillance systems – US and UK - have reported the highest number of COVID-19 deaths. Also, while the world’s best infection research institutions and pharmaceutical companies are battling to come out with a drug/vaccine for COVID-19, Madagascar’s organics and several other less popular herbal remedies were already in the market a few months into the pandemic. Hence, globally, substantial health economic benefits are derivable from supporting researches on ATM.

Equally, given the current realities, the WHO has to urgently consider setting up protocols for verification/certification of ATM products following a wholly concerted and cooperative approach. More generally, a mindset shift towards believing that ATM can add value has become necessary. The fact that ATM practitioners are able to provide cure for COVID-19 and other severe disease conditions points to the fact the international community has a lot more to gain from supporting its development and eventual mainstreaming into the healthcare deliver portfolio. The arguments against ATM based on ethical differences between it and conventional medicine as found in Tilburt and Kaptchuk (2008) has to be jettisoned because it is a one-hand-clapping that has become obsolete, thanks to COVID-19. ATM and conventional medicine have different philosophical orientations: ATM seeks to eliminate the metaphysical (spiritual origin) of the physical (manifest) ailment and restore back the physical tissues destroyed by the ailment along sides; while orthodox clinical therapies focuses on the material facticity of the manifest ailment and tries to manipulate the contagions to achieve healing, without consideration of the spiritual origins. It is only when the ongoing developments in quantum medicine reaches advanced stages that one can fairly compare ATM and orthodox medicine; for now, orthodox medical practitioners and researchers should agree that ATM is ahead as far as taking into account the subjective (spiritual) aspects of diseases treatment is concerned. But as it is now, since both therapeutic approaches have been found to work under several conditions, despite their contextual differences, they can complement each other to achieve Pareto-improvement in healthcare delivery, which is; making more persons healthier, without anyone being worse off.

 

CONCLUSION

This work set out to explore the devastations caused by COVID-19 globally and in Africa in particular, the prevention/containment measures adopted, and how African countries can take advantage of the lessons offered by the pandemic to leapfrog themselves to global relevance as suppliers of immune boosting plant-based foods and herbal supplements. In summary, the points discussed/articulated in the paper are the following:

  1. Uncertainties over the epidemiology and microbial identity of COVID-19 has encouraged the proliferation of conspiracy theories to explain it. The multitude of conspiracy theories severely reduces the risk perception of COVID-19, and voluntary adoption of the WHO recommended behavioural responses, by many in SSA.
  2. Many national governments in Africa attempted, with varying levels of success, to replicate the restrictive measures adopted by the advanced countries without due consideration of the unintended consequences. In particular, in many countries where lockdown/daytime curfews were imposed the population (especially poor informal operators) suffered more from the prevention measures than the pandemic itself.
  3. Post COVID-19 socioeconomic recovery may take longer in African countries because of high external dependency, and the insensitive manner that the major African economies adopted lockdowns/daytime curfews. Nonetheless, the pandemic offers Africans opportunities to create new niches around production of plant-based foods and herbal supplement, and developing health tourism possibilities around ATM.
  4. The pandemic has drawn global attention to the need for the adoption of concerted and cooperative governance at all levels from the family, the community/civil society, to the national levels, and for promoting win-win relationships among countries globally.

In line with the above key findings, the following were recommended:

  1. The microbial identity and epidemiology of COVID-19 should be further investigated by leading infectious diseases centres to minimize the influence of conspiracy theories.
  2. African countries should strengthen capacity to manage emergencies by creating institutionalized emergency management systems and mechanisms, and eliminating the resort to task forces. Equally, the capacity for implementation management should be strengthened in the public service of African countries.
  3. Investment in and effective regulation/governance of the ATM sector will facilitate the entry of ATM practitioners and herbal products into global supply chains.
  4. The WHO has to set up special protocols for certifying African herbal products, in tandem with the philosophical orientation of the ATM.
  5. Adoption of concerted and cooperative governance approached should be prioritized from the level of families to inter-country relationships globally.

Finally, there is no doubt that COVID-19 took the world by surprise, yet development sustainability of African countries can be promoted significantly if the lessons it has offered and experiences gained from its prevention/containment are taken seriously.

 

Prof. Uwem Essia

Pan African Institute for Development (PAID)

Cameroon

uwemessia@yahoo.co.uk essia.uwem@paidafrica.org

+237 672110387

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