According to European Centre for Disease prevention and control definition of social distancing,
“It refers to efforts that aim, through a variety of means, to decrease or interrupt transmission of covid19 in a population (sub-)group by minimizing physical contact between potentially infected individuals and healthy individuals, or between population groups with high rates of transmission and population groups with no or low level of transmission.”
Knowing the certainty on the ground, it is inquisitive that WHO and ministries of health in different African countries are recommending social distance and self-quarantine (self isolation) as a way of reducing the spread of the corona virus. Africa can’t employ the idea of social distancing and total lock down such times to curb covid19.
Lots of South African youth are trapped in poverty from early age. 43.5% of the citizens under the age of 17 live in households that earned below middle income ($60) per month. France 24 said “ Its hard to maintain social distancing in Cameroon.”
Looking at how people shared accommodation, slums and informal settlement are also part of the physical infrastructure of many African cities/town. They live in overcrowded area and lack basic social amenities and other essential services even before the threat of global health crisis emerged (covid19 pandemic).
Thinking of it, Johannesburg in South Africa, has about 700,000 people who are estimated to be living in less than 5 square kilometers (1.9 square miles) and Makoko in Lagos state Nigeria has over 300,000 whose homes are built on stilts in a lagoon. Not only are these overcrowded, but also they commute and queue to use social amenities and spend significant amount of time together, which could potentially expose more people to the virus. Change is constant but is difficult to change in such environment.
Working from home is not part of Africa, but those that work in big offices can change to work from home. If your only means of livelihood is to sell tomato or second-hand clothe (popularly known as Okrika in Nigeria) at an informal market in a big city or a town, how do you begin to do this online work from home thing.
The choice before you is often to stay home and fail to provide evening meal for your family. If I was that person selling at a market, I know the choice I would make. It is not staying at home or maintaining any social distance.
World Health Organization (WHO) also recommended self-quarantine for those who are concerned about the risk of exposure. In adhering to self-quarantine, it included not shearing bathroom, living space and even bedroom (Another form of distancing). If they can, in a house like mine where the bedroom doubles as kitchen and living space all shared with family and sometimes extended family, how do I practice self-quarantine?
WHO recommendation is so absurd if your community borehole or toilet is one shared by dozens of people. This is so unfortunate for many of people living in such reality. Even our health system support queuing to get health-care services. In Sunyani Regional hospital in Ghana, the chairs available are not enough to enable patients and visitor to sit and wait for their turn to be attended to… Even with proper education, Africans are used to close contacting through the act of shaking and hugging, all as part of their culture. Social distancing is not for Africa.
Social distance could probably work for other western world but this is just a privilege to few Africans. Though WHO has done great work for the recommendation but they need to look at Africa differently. Social distancing is easily said than done.
I will suggest, in handling shared accommodation, government should provide tents and mattress to space people who are living in a congested are. In handling queuing for services, security forces must be deployed by government to ensure proper chair spacing. France is using police force for this. Government should force all landlords/landladies to create or provide adequate washrooms for their tenants, so that washroom sharing will be minimal.
In conclusion, the question still stands, “what should African countries that have this kind of settlement do in this era of corona virus pandemic? “
This is my take home on that question.
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