WINNING THE WAR

How tropical countries should combat Covid-19

They should not be complacent about the low figures of positive cases and deaths

In Summary

•This global pandemic has shown us that in the face of cross-cutting threats, big or small, rich or poor, we are all vulnerable.

Passengers being screened at the Tana River bridge before boarding a bus to Nairobi
COVID-19: Passengers being screened at the Tana River bridge before boarding a bus to Nairobi
Image: /STEPHEN ATARIKO

Tropical countries have generally had a slower rate of Covid-19 spread than other states.

A possible explanation for this is the high humidity and temperatures of the tropics. However, this explanation has been questioned by several scholars.

Regardless, this virus is novel and the influence of climatic conditions on the spread of this disease is yet to be scientifically established.

According to data from the Worldometer as at 12 April 12, most tropical countries have not only low numbers of positive cases but also low death rates. As of that date, the only tropical country with more than 10,000 positive cases was Brazil with over 20,000 cases, which is low relative to its population of approximately 210 million.

However, countries in the tropics should not be complacent about the low figures of positive cases and deaths. They should continue forward with the following:

Contact tracing. The available examples are China, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. For example, South Korea has emphasised tracing contacts, testing and isolating. In the case of Taiwan, containment has been due to effective government-led public-private collaboration; integration of the media in efforts to regularly broadcast basic preventive information, such as washing hands, wearing masks, and social distancing; the provision of clear and decisive guidelines, and ensuring the strong support of citizens. 

Ambassador Dr John Kakonge
Ambassador Dr John Kakonge

It is arguable whether the figures from the countries of the tropics are really low in the absence of aggressive testing. From the examples of Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, tropical country governments should strengthen their early warning systems, increase the transparency of information, and carry out accurate diagnosis.

To win the war on coronavirus, social distancing and self-quarantine are another two critical factors.

However, this is going to be a challenge for all countries in the tropics. Many of the countries with densely populated urban centres such as Dar es Salaam, Delhi, Dhaka, Jakarta, Lagos, Manila, Mumbai, Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, and others, have huge slums, where many people or families are squeezed into small rooms.

Additionally, congested public transport and teaming markets mean that social distancing will continue to be a big challenge. Hence, these will be hotspots of increasing positive cases of coronavirus.

The message is clear: Countries in the tropics must prioritise public health. Neighbouring countries need to cooperate and enforce similar measures, such as lockdown, along their borders. This global pandemic has shown us that in the face of cross-cutting threats, big or small, rich or poor, we are all vulnerable.

Article initially published in the journal of Communication, Society and Media.  Ambassador Kakonge is the president of Association of Former International Civil Servants in Kenya (AFICS-Kenya). [email protected]