Eight months into the region outbreak that has escalated into a global pandemic, the true mental toll of living in constant vigilance is beginning to show. Countries are prematurely easing their lock down and adjusting their expectations to live ‘with’ the Coronavirus, opening up businesses and easing restrictions on travel and movement. This has seen significant spikes in reported Coronavirus cases, with South Africa crossing 10,000 new infections in one day last week. In light of this, it is clear quarantine and traditional prevention were only to work as temporary measures to delay the spread of the pandemic and our only true hope for defeating the virus is finding a treatment that arrests the virus at the earliest stage of infection or discovering vaccines that can prevent the virus from taking hold in the first place.
Technology and innovation has significantly accelerated the process of finding a vaccine. The Coronavirus is from a family of viruses that the world has had to counteract in the past, most recently, the SARS virus that spread in Asia and caused significant panic. This bedrock of pre-existing research allows the scientists tasked with finding a solution accelerate beyond the testing phase and begin to synthesize potential vaccines. For once, Africa is a significant part of the push to create the vaccines, with labs in Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa testing their own variations of the vaccine.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said “Too often, African countries end up at the back of the queue for new technologies, including vaccines. These life-saving products must be available to everyone, not only those who can afford to pay,”.
He hopes the clinical trial at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Africa’s first official clinical trials, testing a vaccine developed by the Oxford Jenner Institute in the United Kingdom will bring treatment closer to home if the virus proves effective against the virus. There is still a lot of work to be done, Africans are skeptical of Western medical practitioners and health businesses, because of their long history of exploitative interactions with the continent, and it will be a double hurdle to convince people to use the vaccines if they do prove effective against the virus. Many religious leaders have piggybacked off this fear to sow dissent around vaccines.
One hurdle at a time.