Partner Message – Is Our Purpose A Wake-Up Call?

One thing is for sure: According to scientists, there will be another pandemic anyway.
“We see an acceleration of disease outbreaks in the 21st century. This is due to human behaviour, such as frequent air travel, bush cutting, eating exotic meat, huge stables, and mass gatherings,” says Rinke de Wit. “Climate change amplifies this, through the exodus of animals and humans.”

1. What is the impact of COVID compared to HIV and AIDS?

Comparison between HIV and AIDS
“If there are not enough health care providers and weak health systems as in East Africa, the epidemic will have a greater impact on the health of the population and thus on the economy,” begins Getahi. Molecular biologist and global health specialist Rinke de Wit agrees: “The death rate from COVID-19 in Africa is two to three times higher than official reports. As a result, the epidemic has caused as many deaths as from HIV/AIDS in the same period.”

Shadow Pandemic
Spronk asserts that the unseen effects (social and economic consequences) of crises, which mainly affect girls and young women, must become more visible and action must be proactive. During COVID-19, violence against women and girls around the world has increased. Gitahi explains some disastrous results in his country: “250,000 girls in Kenya did not return to school because they were married off so families would not have a single mouth to feed. Due to curfews and harsh police intervention, pregnant women could not go to the hospital and had to give birth without care.”
At the same time, more girls got pregnant unintentionally because they could no longer go to school.

2. How do we prepare for the next pandemic?

Seeing the tunnel behind it
Human behavior is the basis of the so-called zoonoses (epidemics that jump out of animals). According to Rinke de Wit, global solidarity in access to care has once again been seriously compromised. In the Netherlands (and elsewhere) we suffer from tunnel vision, in connection with COVID-19. “When panic really breaks out, every man is for himself. Africa has been shamefully let down when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines.” The global context is ignored and local solutions are short-term. “But long-term solutions are required!”

Nobody is safe
Globalization means that everything is interconnected: the Internet, people, animals, climate change, and with it infectious diseases. With COVID-19, it has become frighteningly clear that no one is safe until everyone is safe. Because, no matter how good the health system is in, say, the Netherlands, the world is as safe as the worst health system in Uganda, say, Getahi explains. “With PharmAccess, we saw the Omicron variant from South Africa within two weeks in rural western Kenya. Within a month, the virus had spread to 80 countries,” says Rinke de Wit. The trio agree that to achieve lasting sustainable results, solidarity is needed, solidarity is a taboo, and that the problem must be approached holistically, that is, at the level of care systems, not at the level of individual diseases.

health care systems
“Health is politics. And African politics is built on quicksand. In Kenya alone there are 100 different political parties. This is why community participation is critical in responding to the next pandemic,” says Getahi. his wish? A new world order in which health care systems are strengthened from the bottom up. To suppress epidemics, local health care providers can pass signals from the community – for example, there are many children with yellow eyes – to clinics. Societies become resilient when investment is made in human capital and education about family planning, hygiene and women’s rights.” Spronk stresses that children and youth must be involved in change, because they are the future. She relates climate change: “For a healthy future, we have to find a balance between people, animals and nature.”

Africa’s power
Fortunately, according to the trio, good things also emerged from epidemics. For example, after the Ebola virus, the African Union Agency for Public Health (Africa CDC) was created. Europe can take an example from its continental approach: Pan-African procurement of vaccines, medical resources, joint discovery of mutations, testing of new drugs, etc. Gitahi, similar to the African Union, aspires to a common market, without borders, because there diseases do not take into account.

“Europe is burdened with a law of restraining lead. In Africa, major steps can be skipped, revolutions can occur, not just political ones,” continues Rinke de Wit enthusiastically. He thinks of the fast-growing mobile phones that make bankless banking possible, can provide digital healthcare platforms and facilitate telemedicine for individuals. He argues: “Africa can become a world leader in digitizing healthcare systems.”

3. Have you tried our wake up call?

“It is not someone else’s disease. You are also in danger!” concludes Rinke de Wit. This is felt by the audience, as evidenced when someone says: “I am afraid for the future of my grandchildren.” However, according to Spronk, COVID-19 now appears to be a holiday in the rest of the Netherlands. Getahi also wonders if a worse crisis is needed before we get up. The committee tries to end with optimism and concludes that although human behavior is the cause, people can also provide a solution to these problems. For example, through the digital revolution that also provides many opportunities in African countries. Get started today! It excels based on lessons learned from the past.

Written by: Simone Bommelje, Amref Flying Doctors

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