By: Dr. Buhari Habibu
Causative agents of most diseases are so small that they cannot be seen with an unaided eye. Still, they cause disease in humans and animals that greatly affects the way humans live for centuries. Many infectious diseases have significantly affected how and where we live, our economies, our cultures and daily habits. Many of these changes remain long after the diseases have been eradicated. For instance, the European bubonic plague of 1348-1350 that eliminated about two-thirds (at least 20 million people) of the European population at that time, slowed urbanisation, industrial development and economic growth as people left cities and settled for rural and agricultural life.
Under-development in a given country can be viewed in relation to how the citizens think, the tools they use in their daily activities and what they eat. These thought of the citizens give them a certain mindset. If the mindset of the citizens favours corruption or socio-economic development, same will be reflected in all structures that make up the country. Undoubtedly, any nation whose citizens believe solely in the use of foreign tools in their daily activities, such country remains at the bottom when technologically developed nations are ranked and such a nation will continue to waste its locally generated wealth in importing technology from foreign nations. Furthermore, the food a nation consumes, especial dietary protein, reflects its level of development. A nation that has made the appropriate investment, technology and policy wise in indigenous crops and livestock development will produce healthy citizens ready to take the country from great to the greater heights always. Thus, the citizens will feed with ease as food will be cheap and even if there is poverty, there won’t be much hunger.
Almost all factors related to the development of a nation were challenged during the early days of Covid-19 pandemic, especially in Africa. The opportunities to fly abroad for medical treatment and other luxuries were no more. Facilities and materials required for medical diagnosis, research, construction, agriculture, industrial activities and other national emergencies were scarce in countries like Nigeria that depend heavily on importation. Thanks to the Almighty, the present government in Nigeria has been able to significantly cut down the importation of rice by encouraging the production and consumption of local rice. Nonetheless, the pressure and demand was high on the indigenous rice producing industries as governments, politicians and some wealthy citizens were in dire need of rice for distribution as palliatives to the poor. Multi-national companies in many countries could not sustain production for export due to the lockdown and fear of spread. Thus, only try to ensure self-sufficiency in essential commodities, locally. The implication of being a consuming nation became very obvious in Nigeria that even the mediocre member of the society could easily comprehend what was happening. Everyone started shouting ‘we have learnt our lessons and will correct our mistake when the dust of Covid-19 is settled’. We saw the need to start having what is truly ours and have some levels of independence and self-sufficiency. The emptiness in our hospitals, universities, diagnostic and research laboratories became very apparent and echoed like an empty warehouse, loud enough to be perceived by the deaf. Moreover, the level of poverty among the lower class became very glaring even to the visually impaired as many of such citizens could not feed themselves even for a day without leaving their houses to trade or do miniature jobs. In some communities where Covid-19 palliatives were distributed, some of the persons involved in the distribution of such palliatives were attacked by hungry, angry and greedy youths and the palliative food carted away.
Infectious diseases, as well as the search for cures, have had great influence on economies over the centuries. No nation had its fortunes from heavens or on a platter of gold. Every intervention or discovery is through sincere commitment of leaders and dedicated readiness of the follower to work. For instance, despite the age-long challenge of malaria, it was in 1623 when ten cardinals and hundreds of their attendants died that Pope Urban VII declared that a cure for malaria must be found. Jesuit priests travelled from Europe to South America to learn about local treatments. In 1631, they identified quinine, made from the bark of the local cinchona tree in Peru, as a cure. For the first time, probably, both the government and the citizens sincerely acknowledge the need to look inward for solutions to the challenges of Nigeria, that even the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that was on a nationwide strike gave its members the green light to start participating in activities that will alleviate the pains associated with Covid-19 pandemic and, possibly bring it to an end. Equally, the government and the citizens remembered that indigenous scientists, medical doctors and other professionals are of value and could at any time, be called to save the nation. However, prolong dependence on foreign services and products make this quite difficult in an urgent situation due to chronic neglect of these sectors as a result of our inability to painstakingly develop what is truly ours. Notwithstanding, institutions of higher learning and individuals started making some efforts to rescue the ugly situation. Medical doctors were busy in the hospital and researchers in physical and life sciences in our universities and other institution were busy in the laboratories, all making efforts to alleviate or end the menace of Covid-19.
As at now that the impact of Covid-19 pandemic is sagging in many developing nations, especially Nigeria, little or no lesson has been learnt by the leaders and the followers. There is yet to be a solid plan to sustain and boost the little technological development achieved so far. One technological device that attracted a lot of attention during the early days of Covid-19 pandemic is the ventilator. Nigeria can now boast of a viable indigenous prototype of ventilator which needs to quickly go into commercial production. With or without Covid-19, a ventilator is critical in any serious hospital. Only God knows the number of patients that have struggled with difficulties for their lives or even lost their lives due to lack of ventilator even in our tertiary health care centres across the country. Governments at all levels and the citizens as well should never forget the socio-economic crisis and lessons associated with Covid-19 pandemic. There must be intentional and sincere efforts to sustain the little we have started and exploit more fields of science and technology for indigenous development. From available indicators and well known attitude of most Nigerians and other Africans, indigenous development as a social negative feedback in relation to the menace of Covid-19 pandemic is not realistic. As even at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria, allegations of corruption, malpractice and dishonesty still marred the distribution of palliatives and managing of infected patients at the state and federal levels. Nigerians and our governments are gradually forgetting about the challenge of the early days of Covid-19 crisis. Moreover, African is less affected. As the cases of Covid-19 confirmed in the laboratory and unconfirmed case as a result of community infections never amounted to high mortality. The perception of the average citizens as they have been made to believe in the early days of Covid-19 crisis is that, the disease is only real if there is higher fatality. There is no intentional and sincere efforts to keep reminding ourselves of the fear of a closed system where every nation can only consume or utilise what it can produce locally. This on the side of the government involves enforcement of existing laws, implementation of existing policies and creation of new laws and policies to guide the nation.
What is apparent is that, the governments and citizens of the county are praying and waiting for a dramatic rise in the price of crude oil so that we can continue importing toothpick, pizza, pencils, exercise books and if possible, the oxygen to inhale. We sincerely hope that the challenge of Covid-19 pandemic will produces a set of transformed citizens and leaders that will work towards a post-Covid-19 era in which Nigeria will become truly self-reliant and economically independent. The global socio-economic rest associated with Covid-19 lockdown took everyone by surprise and its negative impacts may continue to annihilate many for a long time. Nigerians and citizens of other underdeveloped countries must take up the challenge of Covid-19 pandemic to transform their nations scientifically. If we refuse to lockdown our national borders to advance our nations and resist being dumping grounds for ever exportable product, we should know that another Covid-19-like menace may visit us unannounced. The impact may last longer and no one may be safe.
Dr. Buhari Habibu is a Lecturer with the Department of Veterinary Physiology, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and can be reached via email at email@example.com