Opinion: Gambia’s handling of Covid-19
By Basidia M Drammeh:
With the Gambia confirming its third covid-19 case, it’s prudent to gauge the government’s management of the deadly pandemic, thus far.
Despite their meager resources and limited logistics, the country’s health workers who have been on frontlines in the fight against the invisible enemy deserve commendation for their selflessness and immense sacrifices.
On the other hand, the Government was initially complacent, or shall I say in self-denial, amid claims that sub-Saharan Africa is immune to coronavirus due to the heat. As such, the country’s dynamic Health Minister Ahmad Samateh was left alone to grapple with the issue. Since the outbreak, he has been the Government’s public face, as far as the pandemic is concerned, frequently seen visiting entry points and receiving coronas-related donations on behalf of the Government.
When Senegal reported its first covid-19 case, President Adama Barrow was on a provincial tour to launch a number of infrastructural projects. Mr. Barrow was urged to cut his tour short to assess the level of preparedness but he simply did not. His staunch supporters came to his defense arguing that the President was being regularly briefed by his Health Minister.
As the dreadful virus swept through the world with cases spiking in neighboring Senegal, the Government was brutally awoken. In reaction, the President delivered his first-time speech on Covid-19 in which he spelled out a series of measures to combat the disease, including the closure of schools and institutions of higher education. Mr. Barrow also imposed a ban on public gatherings. However, the speech was clearly void of specifics, such as mechanisms to enforce the measures. Today, the Mayor of Kanifing Municipal Council bemoaned the public’s disregard for the presidential declaration, urging the intervention of security forces to enforce the stringent measures.
The dynamics have completely changed with the announcement of Gambia’s first corona case. A few days later, a Bangladeshi national, who was on a mission to the Gambia to propagate Islam reportedly died of the virus, stoking fear and anxiety among members of the public, which has exacerbated by the confirmation of a third case, exactly one day later.
The 500 million dalasi-fund announced by the Government to fight the disease should be released soonest so that the health workers are better equipped for the fierce battle ahead. The fight against the disease must not be restricted to the urban areas per se, it should be instead all-inclusive, covering the rural areas, too, which are probably more vulnerable, considering the limited facilities in those parts of the country.
Critics are bemoaning a lack of leadership in the face of the evolving global pandemic. To be fair, the dynamic Health Minister Ahmad Samateh has been steadfast in his crusade against the disease. Notwithstanding, he cannot do it alone. The multi-sectoral committee set up by the Government to coordinate efforts to combat this menace is not enough. A committee with political clout should be set up instead, taking into account the far-reaching implications of of Covid-19.
Being a critical national and global issue, all stakeholders should be engaged to conquer coronavirus, including leaders of political parties, academics, and religious leaders, among others.
I am not scare mongering but I would like to re-echo the dire warning issued by the experts that the worst is yet to come, hence the Government needs to heed and revisit its strategy to flatten the curve and deal with the aftermath of the unprecedented calamity.
With the global infections hovering around almost half a million people, I ask Allah to have mercy on us.