We are now plumb in the middle of our second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Friends relatives, and acquaintances have been passing onto to nether world in an unprecedented manner. People who were alive and well a few weeks ago are no more. I am sure each one of us has tale of woe to relating to what is going on. Never have we felt the nearness of death and an associated sense of helplessness. How did we arrive at this moment?
When we got the first wave and went into lockdown in March 2020, we still felt like we had the measure of it. The generous ones gave willingly and others made sacrifices. I suppose we managed to ride the wave. But the pandemic is now here with a vengeance and we are frozen in the stage lights. What went wrong?
In my opinion, there was a serious failure of planning across the board. Some years back, the Government developed a coordination mechanism for its programs to be managed through the Office of the Prime Minister. We all agreed at that time that government Ministries, Directorates and Authorities (MDA’s) were operating in silos. We came up with the concept of ‘the whole of government’ and this was the premise on which we formulated the National Coordination Policy. In the face of this pandemic, why does this policy seem not to have stood us in good stead? We appear not to have a coordinated response to the pandemic as subsequent events have shown. Here are some of the monumental mistakes we made along the way and destroyed trust in the process.
First, we received or collected lots of money from different sources, including loans from so called development partners. The crazy stories coming out of the corridors of the concerned institutions and a report of the Auditor General all point to significant misuse of these funds. As a result, a lot of goodwill has been lost as we see a Covid-19 induced construction boom! One cannot fail to think that as our people are dying, a few well connected persons are raising apartments and having a ball!
A second concern, largely associated with lack of planning but also corruption induced, has been the failure to nationally procure and distribute the essential medical items associated with the management of the pandemic. These include personal protective equipment, drugs and other medical gadgets like ventilators and ICU equipment. The joke doing the rounds is that while we were able to ramp up the number of parliamentarians to a nice 500 plus, we were only able to prepare 200 ICU beds. Note that the majority of those beds are not even in the public health system. Treatment therefore remains unaffordable by most standards.
A third area in which we seem to have flopped was in managing super spreader events. We held campaigns and an election. Inevitably, these helped to spread the disease. We also kept on ferrying kids back and forth from boarding schools where they had gotten infected. Given the poor state of our public health and transport systems, the kids, who were largely asymptomatic, ended up infecting many more vulnerable adults and compounding the problem.
A fourth and perhaps more damning failure that speaks to who we really are, has been the failure to acquire vaccines. Fly on the wall (and I hope I am wrong) tells me that given the (dizzying) amounts of money involved in the procurement of vaccines, the vultures are circling. Three quotations to Government for Sinopharm, Johnson and Johnson and Covishield vaccines quote each dose at about US 24! Proposed supply is 18 – 20 million doses. You do the maths! Now compare that with the Covax tranche received for free under the World Health Organization. If you are a nobody like me and have been immunized, it is largely because of other peoples magnanimity. But it is never too late to redeem ourselves, I suppose help is at hand through your mobile phone device!
Samuel Sejjaaka is Country Team Leader at Mat Abacus Business School. Twitter @samuelsejjaaka