The propensity for the rapid spread of the coronavirus disease in the West African countries is worrying. And yet, being fully aware of the shortcomings of their respective health systems, their leaders had measures put in place ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to protect themselves. However, for lack of rigor, these measures have proved inefficient, and the noose is tightening.
Lack of courage and leadership
What West African countries have in common, albeit in a scattered response, in trying to counter the evolution of the pandemic in their territory, is, among other things, the late decision to suspend flights from affected countries or continents.
Sub-Saharan Africa has not been able to capitalize on its experience gained in the fight against Ebola. As a reminder, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, faced with the threat of Ebola fever in 2014, did hesitate in closing their borders to travelers from the countries (Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) that were mainly affected. However, faced with the global threat of COVID-19, the West African states remained amorphous and waited for the EU to close its borders with the outside world before taking this decision.
Dr. AnicetZran, Health Historian, argues that “The weakness of our States results from the fact that the disease was invited to our home by the capable elites and middle class on the occasion of their travels in Europe. The situation of privilege and favoritism associated with the management of our states has put on hold the government’s will to take strong measures by imposing firm restrictions on people returning from travel. In addition, our position of “train wagon” in international and diplomatic relations made us dither about closing our borders. We know that the act of closing borders is synonymous with a state of emergency and assumed sovereignty. I think that our states wanted to reassure their Western partners before closing their borders. And in order to do this, they had to show the urgency and the gravity of the situation. Which was only possible once the worm penetrated the fruit. The coordination of these shortcomings paved the way for the epidemic breakthrough of this virus which could have been controlled. Once again, this epidemic appears to reveal the weaknesses of our states, caught up in their bad habits”
In addition, the emergency meeting of ECOWAS Health Ministers on the preparedness and response to the coronavirus pandemic, held on February 14, 2020, in Bamako, resulted in very little. The lack of a coordination mechanism for the security system to fight the intrusion of the coronavirus into the ECOWAS space also weakened the response to the coronavirus in West Africa.
Poor management of the migratory flow
This is the case in Côte d’Ivoire, where the failed quarantine of travelers is currently considered by many Ivorians as the main cause for the increase in the number of people affected by the coronavirus disease in the country. While the country has six confirmed cases, the Ivorian authorities took a series of restrictive measures to counter the spread of the disease. In particular, the compulsory quarantine of Ivorian nationals and non-Ivorian permanent residents, for 14 days from their entry into the territory in centers requisitioned by the State.
Unfortunately, on the ground, the implementation of this measure decreed by the Ivorian authorities failed. The favor granted to the relatives of certain individuals on board the Air France flight which landed on the very day that the quarantine measures were instituted aroused much indignation in the networks of other passengers quarantined at the National Institute of Youth and Sports (INJS).
After 3 days, the Ivorian government had to release the passengers and opted for self-confinement. In his message to the nation on Monday, March 23, 2020, the Ivorian Head of State, Alassane Ouattara, condemned these acts which disrupted the start of quarantine operations. “We are all equal before the law and disease,” he said.
Few social measures
Faced with the fragility of their economies, the West African states have opted for partial confinement, with a curfew in certain countries. This is a health measure that will accentuate precariousness among the sections of the population that mainly work in the informal sector.
To fight effectively against the COVID-19 disease, the heads of state will have to take social and economic measures in the days to come, along with health measures. On the one hand, the medical machinery should be brought up to the challenge, namely the care of, and follow-up of infected people, quarantine of suspected cases and staying in contact with proven cases, strong health control, etc. On the other hand, supporting measures should be implemented. Among other things, provision should be made for the suspension of municipal taxes and charges, the suspension of electricity and water bills, the establishment of humanitarian corridors to support the most disadvantaged (in terms of food, drinking water, medicines, etc.) and the reduction of the price of fuel to impact on the cost of basic necessities, etc. All these are measures that can relieve their respective populations.