Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for Covid-19. Since the advent of the deadly virus, Bolsonaro, copying US President Donald Trump, has disregarded the severity of the disease calling it ‘‘a small flu.’’
He refused to implement strict guidelines as advised by health experts. He disdained wearing of masks and mingled closely with his supporters. Starting June, Brazil was recording some of the highest death rates from Covid-19 in the world. And now he has tested positive for the disease.
Perhaps now Bolsonaro will be willing to listen to science and abandon his rightwing-fuelled hubris.
A leader disregarding science and bringing himself and his country to ruin sounds like a cautionary tale from African oral folklore and it has precedence in our region.
Burundi similarly disregarded warnings from the World Health Organisation. Football matches and presidential campaigns went on and masks were not worn. Government officials said God would protect Burundi. But disaster struck the very top of the regime. The new government is now scrambling to reverse months of foolhardy policy. We can only hope that this about-turn is not a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has already bolted.
But even in countries that adhered to WHO regulations, managing Covid-19 has been a nerve-wracking exercise, especially in poor countries. How do you balance the need to lockdown and the need to reopen the economy? With relatively little testing being done, decision-makers are unable to gauge the actual trend of the infection and make appropriate policy. The nature of how the virus spreads has also proved to be a headache.
Is it airborne or is it only transmitted through close contact with infected persons? Can people who have recovered from the disease be re-infected? Can asymptomatic people infect others? And why does the disease affect individuals in vastly different ways? Are there factors, other than limited testing, that account for the low infection and death rates in Africa?
I have come across people who are convinced that the nasty flu-like illness they had in December and January was Covid-19. There is also the case of a mysterious disease that caused girls at a boarding school in Nairobi to sneeze and cough incessantly sometime last year.
Researchers need to get insight into these aspects and mysteries of the disease in order to advise policymakers. So we hope that our governments will now prioritise equipping our research institutions with everything they need to not only answer these questions about Covid-19, but to also be able to provide answers on future more deadly outbreaks.
We also need to equip them to be able to develop vaccines and therapies for these viruses to avoid a situation ‑- as in Madagascar — where the president touts an untested herbal concoction as a cure.
Imagine if the third or half of the budget funds stolen in Kenya every year had been invested in our research capabilities?