Editor’s note: The author is a former World Bank economist, former Kenya President advisor, and Kenyan economist living in Washington, DC.
China’s response to the coronavirus has earned praise from the World Health Organization, as well as many countries. The response has also strengthened Africa’s solidarity with China.
The symptoms of coronavirus infection are so common that it took some time to realize that we are dealing with a new virus. But once the new virus was identified, China’s response set new standards for the world. Newspaper reports in Africa are praising the scale and speed of the response.
Wuhan’s new 1000-bed Huoshenshan hospital covering 60,000 square meters has been built in just 10 days by 7,000 people working ‘round the clock. It is now operational. A second hospital with 1,600 beds will open its doors by this coming weekend.
The scale and speed are unmatched anywhere in the world.
To many Africans, what is even more awe inspiring is what is not visible. Translating the idea of a dedicated hospital into blueprints for thousands of components, assembling them into a model, agreeing on specifications and standards, contracting different entities to make or build the components, preparing the site and erecting the hospital about one month after the enemy was identified is a feat in which every citizen of China can take pride.
Equally compelling is convening 1,400 medical specialists to handle intensive care, diagnosis and infection control units with a unity of purpose. The specialists bring skills gained from past battles: fighting SARS, a relative of the new coronavirus, or Ebola virus in Africa. This large team appears to be working with the precision of a military operation.
But coronavirus is also awakening racism. Africans are recalling other global health emergencies.
The 1918 flu pandemic, first detected in the US heartland, affected nearly a third of the world’s population. No country or region was blamed for the emergency. No stigma was attached to US citizens. But the 1957 flu that was first identified in Singapore and Hong Kong was quickly labelled “Asian Flu.” We must guard against compounding the tragedy of coronavirus with racism or bigotry. The virus is the enemy.
While no cases have been reported in Africa, countries are screening people coming from China. At the same time, China is helping African governments by monitoring Africans in China. So far, there does not appear to be a need to evacuate Africans although a few countries have done so. Moreover, there does not appear to be a necessity for general quarantine of everyone coming from China.
African media is also reporting signs of hope, even as the people of Hubei Province and the city of Wuhan bear the pain of quarantine.
For example, we know that although there are over 20,000 identified cases worldwide and over 400 people have died, near 1,000 have recovered and the rate of recovery is steadily growing. Clearly the medical and health professionals on the frontline, supported by scientists in China and the world are starting to understand the new enemy.
They are inching their way towards a strategy, a set of protocols or procedures for tackling either the coronavirus or associated infections.
Africans are hanging on to this ray of hope. The African continent, country after country, stands in solidarity with China, confident that China has the scientific knowhow and technical capacity to manage this health emergency.
Those like Egypt or South Africa that manufacture medical supplies and equipment have delivered their assistance to China. But for African countries that cannot extend such assistance, goodwill towards China runs deep in Africa – a continent that has pinned its hope for genuine development on the partnership with China.
The Flowers Will Blossom
We must say to the people of Wuhan that Spring cannot be far; the flowers will blossom again. We must believe that we will triumph with China leading this effort.