In the agenda setting theory of Mass Communication, the mass media is that powerful it dictates what is or isn’t headline news. What is trending is determined by what the media deems news worthy or of public importance. And cashes in on it. In the days of traditional print journalism, soft sell magazines and newspapers make sales the morning after. This time, breaking news is what CNN has popularized. It is an active attempt to increase audience flow to that media outlet and to increase readership and followership. It could also be to popularize the media outlet so as to increase its bargaining powers before advertisers.
So, until this Corona virus frenzy started, the US and UK media flooded the web with the impeachment of DonaldTrump. That seems decades ago. In Nigeria, it was Lassafever that was trending. Now both the world and Nigerian mass communicators have shifted their attention. They’ve got off on that bandwagon. It’s the corona, crown of viruses, that has stolen all the media attention. I am not saying it is not of public health importance. It is, even affecting trade and travelling.
Huge businesses are tailing off. Lufthansa airlines havecancelled over 7000 flights. Wuhan, the city in the eye of the storm, was literally shut down. People were holed up in their rooms endlessly, wailing some of the most heart-breakingsounds of human despair ever heard in recent times. How about religion? Saudi Arabia and the Vatican that have played host to millions of pilgrims from around the world had to shut down. Holy sites often filled with mammoth crowd are now as empty as graveyards.
The fear of COVID-19 is the beginning of wisdom. Football matches are put off. Mortality figures have hit 11,000 while total infections getting to a quarter of a million. That is almost 5% mortality rate, not considering unidentified cases. And the contagious infection is spreading its tentacles, turning it into a pandemic across nations. Why wouldn’t it be? International travel enables internationalisation of disease. In Africa, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa, the virus was imported by nationals other than Africans.
And yes! COVID-19 is an envelope crown-headed viruswhose external core is susceptible to denaturing by acidic or corrosive agents like alcohol based hand sanitisers or handwashing. Hand washing is a basic health and hygiene issue everyone must practice. Facemasks especially the N95 of positive clients are helpful in curtailing the spread of the virus, they are by no means gold standards.
So far, no vaccine has been developed. A trial vaccine has begun and candidates have been enrolled in the clinical trial. It is only in HIV that new medications are hurriedly approved by the FDA (and on emergency basis) rolled out as treatment.A drug that that passes all the stages of development from raw material or active ingredient extraction to formulation to clinical trials, multi-country trials and post marketing surveillance, it takes between 10 to 30 years. But Anti-Retrovirals tool less than 5 years. Zidovudine, the first anti-retroviral to be developed, in barely 33 years in the market. It took only 3 years to develop and get into the market.
Vaccine production offers the best preventive way out of thisquagmire. So healthy non-carriers can benefit from the wisdom of science. While some European and American parents refuse to immunise their children, Africa is recording high coverage for all the childhood killer disease like diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, tuberculosis etc.
The key advantage of a vaccine is that once one person is protected, that individual has immunity and is unable to pass on the contagion. He indirectly confers immunity to even those not vaccinated. And in other cases, some other people who have been infected acquire immunity against certaindiseases and are unable to transmit the infection. This two groups of people, those vaccinated and those with acquired immunity, have been able to form herd immunity. This takes place over a period of time. Herd or community immunity is achieved when a large population has that immune cover or protection against the virus. Take measles vaccines for instance. Those vaccinated and those once infected develop herd immunity. And the infection doesn’t spread like wildfires anymore except for occasional flares in few populations orplaces. Same thing for chicken pox.
For the Corona Virus, herd immunity would come when a vaccine is developed and administered to large sections of the public. This cohort and those who survived the infection (acquiring infection in the process) now confer herd immunity and gradually, we defeat the virus. Even the US CDC projects the disease would be here till end of the year and into early next year 2021.
While we in sub Saharan Africa have no tangible basis to put all our hopes on herd immunity, we can at least maintain hand hygiene using alcohol-based hand sanitizes and maintain perfect cough etiquette: use handkerchief when sneezing and cultivate good health seeking behaviours such as prompt and regular hospital visits for medical check-ups. We don’t have to fall sick before seeking medical attention. If it reaches that level, matters could have gone out of hand. And maybe fatally.
Secondly, while we keep one eye of the corona virus, let us look inward. We are in March and very are already experiencing hot weathers. The heat is incessant and unbearable. Again, this change in weather is the conducive environment that allows other pathogens to thrive. Meningitis, measles and pneumonia are common this period. Beware of the meningitis belt across Africa. It starts around East Africa and wraps arms around sub-Saharan Africa, engulfing children and then, on self-prognosis, dies off.
While we maintain close surveillance at our airports and our neighbours, let us also remember that in Nigeria, for instance, there’s greater presence of herd immunity for measles and meningitis than the novel COVID-19. Let our health care workers ensure we maintain these health lifestyles that kick away infectious host diseases such as Lassa fever and ebola and droplet infections (MERS). All for the common good and increase life expectancy.
Let us pray for China, Italy and researchers to find the vaccine and treatment in the shortest possible time. And relegate this worrisome phenomenon to the dustbins of history.
Lawrence Wakdet is a Public Health specialist and Health Communicator, he wrote in from Jos, Plateau state, Nigeria. He can be reached on [email protected]