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Africa’s customized response to COVID-19

International | Governments team up with the private sector to combat the disease
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 5/22/20, 02:03 pm

Nigerian officials posed for a photo earlier this month with a genetic research team in front of a 40-foot shipping container converted into a mobile COVID-19 testing lab. Since the pandemic began, the Nigerian Center for Disease Control has approved several private companies, including 54 Gene, to help increase the country’s testing capacity.

The coronavirus pandemic has spurred creative solutions across the continent. As of Friday, the African Union had recorded more than 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, about 39,500 recoveries, and 3,105 deaths. Responding to the outbreak has consumed the resources of many Western countries, leaving little support for African governments. Underfunded health agencies are increasingly forming partnerships with private companies and laboratories to create locally tailored responses to the outbreak.

To avoid the difficulty of shipping test samples to other locations for processing, 54 Gene stationed mobile labs in a few Nigerian states. Its lab in Kano state can process up to 1,000 tests a day. In March, 54 Gene also raised $500,000 to increase the country’s testing capacity and provide necessary protective equipment for healthcare workers.

The Nigerian Institute of Medical Research joined with LifeBank, a Nigerian medical delivery company, to launch drive-thru testing centers in Lagos and Oyo states, as well. LifeBank expanded its emergency medical oxygen delivery and compiled a database of ventilators, respirators, and intensive care beds available in private health centers to streamline cooperation with government agencies.

“I didn’t have plans to do anything around COVID-19 when it first started, but I read too much about it and started having nightmares about ventilators and the virus,” LifeBank founder Temie Giwa-Tubosun told CNN. “The next day I called the team, and we got to work.”

In neighboring Ghana, California-based Zipline uses drones to deliver test samples from rural areas to laboratories in nearby cities. The drones cut transport time, which would normally require long drives over rural roads, to less than an hour, in some cases, according to Zipline.

In response to limited testing access in many countries, a Senegalese research lab has started trials of a $1 coronavirus testing kit that only takes about 10 minutes to determine results. The Institut Pasteur de Dakar partnered with the U.K. biotech firm Mologic to redesign a kit originally used for dengue fever. It includes a saliva-based test for virus antigens and a blood-based one for antibodies.

Senegal, a country of about 16 million, only has 50 available ventilators. Researchers in the country have figured out how to use 3D printers to make them for about $60. Ventilators cost about $16,000 each to import.

In Ethiopia, biomedical engineer Bilisumma Anbesse joined several other volunteers to repair and upgrade old ventilators as the nation struggles to compete with the high global demand for the equipment.

During a roundtable discussion involving African leaders on Wednesday, Tony Elumelu—a Nigerian philanthropist and chairman of the United Bank of Africa—said the pandemic offers an opportunity to “reset” Africa.

“If we have a Marshall Plan that mobilizes resources to address particular issues, then we can mitigate against this constant begging for assistance,” he said.

Associated Press/Photo by Berthier Mugiraneza Associated Press/Photo by Berthier Mugiraneza Electoral officials stand by ballot boxes in Giheta, Burundi, on Wednesday.

Burundians pick a president

Burundi blocked access to Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp ahead of its contentious presidential election. Voters headed to the polls on Wednesday despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Official results on the seven-way race are expected on June 4.

Ligue Iteka, a local human rights group, recorded 67 killings and 204 arbitrary arrests in the months leading up to the vote. President Pierre Nkurunziza is expected to step down after 15 years but will retain some hold on power. He created a new position called “supreme guide of patriotism,” which will require the new leader to consult him on issues of national security and unity.

By Friday, Burundi had confirmed 42 cases of COVID-19, including 20 recoveries and one death. On May 14, the foreign ministry ordered the country’s World Health Organization representative and three other officials to leave Burundi without explanation. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by K.M. Chaudary (file) Associated Press/Photo by K.M. Chaudary (file) A service at the Cathedral Church of the Resurrection in Lahore, Pakistan

Pakistani commission faces backlash

Pakistan’s Ministry for Religious Affairs on May 5 created a commission to help the country’s severely persecuted religious minorities. But the National Commission on Minorities lacks authority to change the constitution or laws responsible for religious persecution of Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus, and others.

In 2014, the Pakistani Supreme Court called for a national council to review minority treatment. Critics said the commission falls far short of the court’s demand. Pakistani Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph Arshad of Islamabad-Rawalpindi said officials did not consult minorities about the formation of the group. And Human Rights Watch criticized the exclusion of Ahmadis.

Farahnaz Ispahani, a former member of the Parliament of Pakistan, urged the U.S. government not to let Pakistan’s “symbolic gestures and public relations gimmicks” hoodwink it. —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press/Photo by Ben Curtis (file) Associated Press/Photo by Ben Curtis (file) Photographs of victims of the Rwandan genocide at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda

Rwandan genocide perpetrator found

After a 26-year manhunt, a court in Paris arraigned a suspect in the Rwandan genocide on Tuesday after authorities found him living in France under another identity. Sixteen elite officers dressed in black forced open the front door of the apartment where 84-year-old Felicien Kabuga had been living under one of his 28 aliases. He had a $5 million bounty on his head.

In 1997, the United Nations indicted Kabuga of genocide, incitement to genocide, and five other crimes connected to the systematic slaughter of the Tutsi people in 1994. The UN requested his transfer to The Hague for trial.

Kabuga, a Hutu businessman, co-owned Radio Television Milles Collines, which broadcast anti-Tutsi propaganda and helped incite the massacre. Kabuga stands accused of importing machetes and funding youth militias that killed Rwandans. —J.A.S.

Associated Press/Photo by Thein Zaw Associated Press/Photo by Thein Zaw Police escort Canadian pastor David Lah for his court appearance in Yangon, Myanmar, on Wednesday.

Pastor blamed for outbreak

A pastor in Myanmar faces possible prison time after holding a service where people contracted COVID-19. Myanmar, also known as Burma, had confirmed only 199 cases, six deaths, and 108 recoveries as of Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The country imposed restrictions on mass gatherings in mid-March.

Video footage from early April showed David Lah, a Myanmar-born Canadian citizen, leading a worship service in Yangon, where he assured congregants the disease would not affect faithful Christians. Lah later tested positive for the illness, and government officials traced dozens of confirmed cases back to the gathering. Authorities detained him after he emerged from quarantine. Court officials charged Lah with violating the Natural Disaster and Management Law. He could face three years in prison if convicted. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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