By Ali Abare
As the COVID-19 ravages the world, the news of US President Donald Trump’ s decision to withdraw support in terms of funding for the World Health Organization (WHO), came as a rude shock, particularly to the countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
With forecast painting gloomy pictures about the spread of the pandemic in Africa, with a commentator on CNN, positing that the coronavirus is expected to hit Africa, “in an avalanche”, the decision by the US President to withdraw funding for the WHO, is not only most unfortunate but may result into an avoidable catastrophe.
Whatever reasons prompted President Trump to take that decision, with revelations showing that he took that decision because he wasn’t happy with the role the world body played after the virus erupted in China, which for many, will only point to the simmering struggle for world dominance between the two super powers, the decision actually exposes sub-Saharan Africa to further debilitating consequences which could further jeopardize the already crumbling economies of most of the countries in the region.
Already, with nearly two million people globally infected and more than 127, 000 deaths so far recorded since the outbreak of the pandemic in Wuhan province, China last year, the impact of the disease is yet to be seriously felt in Africa and there is growing fears that once COVID-19 enters Africa, the number of deaths will skyrocket and could even push the world to another catastrophe.
Withholding several millions of dollars in funding for the WHO may after all succeed in not only whittling down the influence of the world body, as far as its power to intervene particularly in Africa is concerned, but will have far telling effects on African countries that mostly depend on such humanitarian and donor agencies.
While the US and China wrestle for control of the world economy, with the COVID-19 pandemic already killing people in their thousands, the WHO has become the scapegoat.
Certainly, the pandemic is yet to hit Africa, even with the overwhelming warning forecast from the West. However, the decision by the US to withdraw funding for the WHO, has become a clarion call for African countries to look inward and to evolve workable, sustained strategy for self-sustenance.
As the world grapples with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, bodies such as the WHO, who are expected to intervene and help in containing the spread of the virus, especially in developing countries, are being hindered through the withholding of much needed funding.
With the US reportedly the biggest donor to the United Nations agency, said to be contributing more than $400m only last year, pegged at roughly 15 percent of the WHO budget, Trump’s withholding of such much needed financial muscle at a time the coronavirus scourge is making inroads into Africa, calls for serious concern.
This is especially that structures already in place and others being created to meet pressing challenges in the developed world to contain the spread and mitigate the impact of the pandemic, are virtually lacking in most African countries.
The situation is even made worst when viewed against the backdrop that most African countries, lack the urgency vital to combating the spread of the COVID-19, with concerns that once index cases escape into the larger society undetected, or even as some influential persons refused to be quarantined, like it happened recently in Nigeria, when some lawmakers returning from Europe on a training programme, shunned attempts to be examined or even quarantined, the impact as the virus spread quickly in communities, will be unimaginably catastrophic.
No wonder that the African Union joined other world leaders and organizations, to condemn the decision by President Trump to withhold funding for the WHO.
Describing the pandemic as “one of the most dangerous challenges this world has faced in our life time”, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said the WHO, with thousands of staff, is on the front lines, supporting member states and their societies, especially the most vulnerable among them, with guidance, training, equipment and concrete life-saving services as they combat the pandemic.
The UN Scribe was of the view that the WHO must be supported, as according to him, the agency is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-19.
Also commenting on the matter, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairman, African Union Commission, described the action of the US President as “deeply regrettable”, stressing that more than ever before, the entire world depends on the WHO to spearhead the global fight against coronavirus.
Indeed, Africa’s predicament is even further worsened by socio-cultural norms, that if left unchecked, may quicken the spread of the pandemic across communities. Religious and marriage ceremonies, communal existence, among such norms, could pose serious threat to the fight against COVID-19 in African countries.
Situations like this therefore calls for sober reflections. African countries must gear up as they world confronts this common enemy. They should in earnest, consider this decision by President Trump, as a turning point, when they must come together in self-help because as the economy of the world totters, there won’t be father Christmas to bail them out.
Of course, the withdrawal of funding for the WHO is only a tip of the iceberg. With fears of the world running into recession as a result of the pandemic, many world bodies may soon realize that they don’t have money to carry on with their activities, especially in Africa.
African countries must therefore stop looking for manna to fall from heaven and to henceforth desist from over relaying on either the West or the East, but must stamp their feet to support each other weather the storm.
Abare, a journalist and PR specialist, writes from Lafia, Nasarawa State, and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org