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We need an effective think-tank on Covid

As winter draws to a close, a cursory glance back at the past few months shows how bitter it has been. The dark clouds swell up with many a tear that has been left on the cheeks of most Zimbabweans. It has been a winter of anguish; a friend in hospital, another scurrying for oxygen tanks across town, a funeral here and a funeral there with tears and pain summing up all the harshness of this terrible virus. The Covid-19 pandemic has admittedly been devastating, but as a people we can draw up solutions to lessen the blows it is dealing us.

Tatenda Nyakufuya

In one way or another we are all bearing scars induced by this pandemic. We have buried friends and relatives ever since this scourge hit us. Even in instances where one has had to attend funerals virtually, the pain of losing loved ones is still palpable. It transcends the small screens we use and cuts deep into our hearts nonetheless. Our hearts were not conditioned to endure such relentless pain week after week. It is one thing to lose one family member, but to lose multiple family members in a matter of days is almost beyond human limits of endurance. We simply cannot afford to have future waves tossing us into unending mourning again.

The losses have extended from sacrosanct lives to livelihoods. We have had to grapple with losing our friends and relatives but now have to contend with losing our incomes as well. Covid-19 has not only brought its pangs of death into our lives but it has brought with it its equally evil twin brother, Lockdowns. Lockdown restrictions have left several businesses reeling on the canvass trying to muster up enough strength to get up just one more time. However, the blows have been relentless for long and it might only be a matter of time before they shut down for good.

We need to draw a line in the sand somehow and say we need to find ways to deal with this monster effectively before it clears us all. We have had three waves of this pandemic but sad to say each rising wave has caused more harm than the preceding one. We have lost more lives with each wave and we seem to have resigned our destinies to fate hoping and trusting that the vaccines we have received will shield us from extreme battering by the virus.

It is disheartening to note that whilst we reel from the effects of Covid-19, elsewhere life is slowly going back to normal. During the recently ended Euro-2020 soccer tournament, most of us watched with glee as stadiums were filled with mask-less supporters having the time of their lives cheering on their teams. It seemed surreal that one part of the globe could be so free whereas the other side was intensifying the straps on our mouths and noses. A number of announcements are being made particularly in the western countries that point to an imminent lifting of all restrictions hitherto imposed by Covid. Many of us have been left wondering if Covid-19 has degraded to a Third World countries problem just like, to a large extent, AIDS did.

Granted, both sides of the globe are facing the same challenge. However, the number of deaths on any given portion of the population paints stark contradictions.

Mortality figures on this third wave are now lower in the first world than in the third world. Even in cases where the rates of infections have increased the numbers of those succumbing to this disease are far much lower than those recorded in the first two waves. It does not require advanced knowledge to realise that the West is doing something good we ought to imitate. As for the East, they revel in secrecy and no ready figures are available so definitely it is difficult to check and compare notes with them.

To tackle this Covid-19 challenge, we definitely require smart solutions drawn from a competent think-tank. Zimbabwe is endowed with a number of intellectually capable professionals competent in the management of disease outbreaks. Most of these probably have an opinion or two on how we can overcome this monster but, sadly, their voices are drowned out by garrulous political voices who have taken the role of experts on vaccine effectiveness and efficacy overnight.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not saying that the current vaccines we have do not work. They do work and thus far they have also helped me stay alive and write this. However, cemeteries also carry some of my fully vaccinated colleagues who have not lived beyond infections to tell their side.  A think-tank on Covid-19 would study and analyse all available vaccines and probably advise on which other forms could be best suited for our country.

There definitely is no harm in having a coterie of both our current vaccines and others developed elsewhere adorning the shelves of our clinics and pharmacies peacefully side by side as we seek to outlive this pandemic.

The field of research on the effectiveness of mixing vaccines is still an open book worldwide implying that the search towards a vaccine that is 100% effective is still an ongoing process. The coronavirus has been mutating with variants that are threatening to exhaust the entire Greek-alphabet. It is probable that the next time we are faced with another wave of this pandemic, we might have yet other variants spreading and other new vaccines.

We do not need alignment politics to pervade our thoughts on this life-and-death matter. We should not be blind to the fact that there are other alternative vaccines that could come to our aid. A competent think-tank advising the powers that be in this country would do an analysis on which vaccine we ought to get more of if need be, given the mutations of the coronavirus.

Zimbabweans need to realise that the effects of this pandemic cut across political leanings. The powers that be ought to appoint an apolitical think-tank that draws strategies to deal with this pandemic in a manner that saves Zimbabwe and all her people without politicians trying to outshine each other as the saviours of the nation. This is a national crisis not confined to politics.

It is disheartening to note that some of Zimbabwe’s most prominent business leaders, although involved in the research and acquisition of vaccines, have had to shift their focus elsewhere because of our closed-book approach.

We need a shift towards a 360-degree view of the world, not our current West is always bad and East is always good basis, premised on the dictates of yesteryear politicians who might or might have not been right.

All hope is not lost though, we should draw on the work Zimbabweans like Strive Masiyiwa have already done elsewhere and lay out the olive branch to them and harness some of their toil thus far. At this point saving lives is the ultimate aim, the politicians can grapple another day. If Masiyiwa is getting vaccines for Country X then we should also try to get some of them here.

Ultimately, it would be a masterpiece if a think-tank can work on our own locally manufactured vaccine. They would be best suited to identify the resources required and push towards local solutions not only for this current pandemic but for other diseases as well.

Another area in which a think-tank would best advise us is on the effectiveness of our current lockdowns. Ever since they were introduced, we have not seen the numbers going down or the curve flattening. It definitely points to some deficiencies in the current model. A think-tank would identify the weak points and definitely reduce the periods we have to spend under these iron curtains.

There is a good number of businesses that have been thrown under the rails because of lockdowns. These are businesses that employ people with families to feed. There are no real social nets in our country and each day longer it takes for these people is another day they have to grapple with another terrible vice, hunger!

Government should allow access to other vaccines. And also allow private companies to import whatever vaccines they deem fit for the communities they operate in.

Nyakufuya is  retired banker and businessman.

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