CHANGING TIMES

Learning to live with uncertainty

The only constant in our lives.

In Summary
  • Many of the previous certainties of our daily lives have been swept away by the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Now I find myself lost for words at the ill-treatment that Kenyans resident in China, along with other African nationals, are being subjected to in Guangzhou.

There was a time when the word of a US President carried great authority, irrespective of what the president had to say. But over the past fortnight or so, we have seen President Donald Trump promote the use of an anti-malarial drug called Hydroxychloroquine as an effective treatment for Covid-19 infection.

And barely had the words left his mouth when eminent American virologists promptly contradicted him in the plainest possible terms and declared that there was no scientific proof of the efficacy of this drug in treating Covid-19.

Prior to that, we had been told by globally renowned infectious disease specialists that we had no need for face masks. That we should leave the limited supply of such masks to medical professionals, and to those who had been tested and found to be infected by the coronavirus (who had to wear face masks in order to avoid spreading the infection).

 

Now we see the very people here in Kenya who had joined in this consensus that we ordinary people did not need face masks – the top leadership of our Ministry of Health – suddenly doing a major U-turn and threatening us with immediate arrest if we but step out of our homes without a face mask on.

And this U-turn is not a result of any failing in our own public health infrastructure, fragile as that may be. On the contrary our Ministry of Health has been largely following the guidelines set out by the World Health Organization for the management of the global Covid-19 pandemic, but also the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which on this issue of face masks, actually has a different recommendation from that of the WHO.

just a few weeks ago, and along with a good number of other veteran Kenyan columnists, I felt obliged to plead with my fellow Kenyans not to succumb to the rising tide of anti-Chinese xenophobia which followed on sightings of groups of Chinese who had apparently returned to their jobs here in Kenya having flown in despite the official ban on flights from China.

Beyond our borders, the predictions as to how many Americans were likely to die due to the ongoing pandemic have over a period of just a month or so, fallen from a terrifying 200,000 fatalities, to 100,000, and most recently to about 60,000. This drop in semi-official estimates being the result of apparent success in “flattening the curve” by which epidemiologists mean, slowing down the rate of infections to a point where at any one time, hospitals do not have more patients than they can effectively treat.

In the UK, there was initially a focus on the creation of “herd immunity” with the government publishing a very minimalist set of guidelines which were the opposite of the partial or total lockdown in some European states. But there has long since been a complete reversal of this policy, with the UK now broadly following the same WHO guidelines as everyone else.

However Sweden, not at all a country known to be given to obtuse rejectionism towards any global consensus, has still continued to follow a policy which even if not necessarily based on the “herd immunity” theory, in practice presupposes some such build-up of immunity over time. And Swedes, to a large extent, have continued with much the same way of life as existed before the pandemic struck, with restaurants and schools still open.

Oddly enough, despite this, there have been no long lines of army lorries turning up at Swedish towns to carry away corpses “en masse”, as happened in Italy at one point.

Finally, just a few weeks ago, and along with a good number of other veteran Kenyan columnists, I felt obliged to plead with my fellow Kenyans not to succumb to the rising tide of anti-Chinese xenophobia which followed on sightings of groups of Chinese who had apparently returned to their jobs here in Kenya having flown in despite the official ban on flights from China.

Now I find myself lost for words at the ill-treatment that Kenyans resident in China, along with other African nationals, are being subjected to in Guangzhou – a city which was for many years a favoured (and warm welcoming) destination for Kenyans doing business with China.

What does all this mean? Well, primarily that many of the previous certainties of our daily lives have been swept away by the Covid-19 pandemic.

And until the global biomedical research efforts currently underway yield a solution to this crisis, we must adjust to uncertainty as the only constant in our lives.