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Drones, Ghana and COVID-19 in Africa

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DRONES, GHANA AND COVID-19 IN AFRICA

 

BY UBAKA OKOFU

 

Engaging drones to fight the ravaging Coronavirus pandemic, specifically to square up with the annoying challenges of bad roads, gridlock, general inaccessibility and avoidable deficiencies in health facilities which has become the norm in nations like Ghana now is as novel in some sense as the virus itself.  It cannot be impugned that the use of drones had frog leaped the testing of persons suspected to have the virus, as well as aided the delivery of COVID-19 kits and medications to far flung and remote areas of the country. It was reported that multiple samples are being flown over long distances to Kumasi and Accra where there are laboratories.

Ghana might be about 3.9 times smaller than the most populated country in Africa, yet her innovative strides in the fight to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the novelty of engaging drones, has placed that country far ahead of other African countries in its efforts to keep the virus under check. Further, it has proven that those at the dais of the country’s affairs are not only on top of the game, but know exactly what they are doing.

So far, the country has been able to carry out over 160,497 COVID-19 tests, out of which there were 6,269 confirmed cases and 31 deaths. This is a figure considered to be fair if the country’s population of 29,800,137 is anything to go by.  However, the country briefly experienced a spike in confirmed cases following the relaxation of lockdown mainly in Accra and Kumasi by the same government that had since redoubled its efforts to pull back the curve of infected persons.

The use of drones to transport blood samples from remote areas to the cities, was supported by a Ghana based Silicon Valley Company, operators of Zipline drones, and in conjunction with the Ghanaian government. The innovation is said to be the first of its kind in Africa. Nigeria and South Africa, two countries rated high by the World Health Organisation, (WHO) in the fight against the pandemic are however seemingly far behind Ghana in terms of the deployment of novel and creative strategies and the general struggle to curtail and contain the virus. With 5,350 confirmed cases and 103 deaths, South Africa clearly remains the country with the highest number of index cases in Africa.

On the other hand, the Nigerian government appears to be too slow and ragtag in its approach to curtailing the virus. Efforts so far taken, several analysts say, demonstrate less than the urgency needed to ensure that the virus does not escalate beyond manageable limits. As a consequence and as it stands, particularly now in view of the annoyingly snail pace of testing and the resultant dearth of equipment, the concern is that the country may face a far worse situation in the next one or two months if officials continue to carry on in the allegedly dubious and unsavoury ways through which they were going about their duties.

So far, like is the case with Cape Town in South Africa, Lagos is the hotbed of the pandemic in Nigeria. The number of infected persons has kept increasing in Lagos, Kano and Abuja. Presently, Nigeria has over 7,261 confirmed cases and about 221   deaths. Quite worrisome is the snail pace of testing. Only about 13,689 persons have been tested. Sometimes, it takes between 48 to 72 hours to get results from the few laboratories established across the country. What pundits find difficult to accept is the fact that each state of the country is yet to have a COVID-19 laboratory, and this, they  consider to be quite  shameful for  a nation that has been touted as being the giant of Africa.

The Nigerian government has also received knocks over its weak preparedness to tackle the economic effects of the pandemic. President Akufo-Ado and his South African counterpart, Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa have been applauded for having taken sterner measures to alleviate the imminent economic pains and setback that almost everyone now agrees is about to come. In both countries, tax holidays, temporary suspension of electricity and water bills and loans to small and medium scale businesses are among other palliatives that the government of both countries have since offered their citizens.

Almost in all African countries, sustaining a lockdown was always going to be problematic. The first few weeks of the lockdown in Nigeria exposed the ill preparedness of the Nigerian government to the pandemic. Worse hit were those in the private sector. Mass retrenchment, loss of businesses and general hardship became the fate of the people. Two factors are being attributed to the very quick economic effects of pandemic on the Nigerian population. First was the pulverized economy. Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in last December in Wuhan, the Nigerian economy was already in a very bad shape. To make the situation worse, came the sudden crash in the price of crude oil which is still the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. The price of crude oil fell from $64 per barrel to below $30 per barrel, a situation that has placed the Nigerian economy in dire straits. The country’s 2020 budget was drawn on a benchmark of $56 per barrel. The deficit of over $20 has since compelled the government to make some adjustments that are as catastrophic as the COVID-19 pandemic itself. And the hope is that the people would yet survive.

 

 

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