By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network
NEW YORK (IDN) – While Africa, like the international community, on the whole, is engaged in a tough fight against the coronavirus, a World Health Organization (WHO) expert has called into question frightening estimates of those affected by COVID-19. At the same time, Ghana in a surprise move has ordered a partial lift of the lockdown. The pandemic virus is luring Rwanda into massive ‘loans’ under the garb of debt reduction.
Famed Nigerian filmmaker Niyi Akinmolayan has created an animated video to help youngsters understand why they have to stay home and forego outdoor games with their friends. That is where Akinmolayan’s cartoon monster comes in.
In a 90-second animation, the animation tells the story of two siblings, Habeeb and Funke. Habeeb gets tired of staying at home and decides to sneak out to play soccer. His older sister Funke, busy washing her hands, warns him not go out, but he insists, only to be confronted by an ugly green monster!
Akinmolayan, best known for directing “The Wedding Party 2”, Nigeria’s highest grossing movie, said he was inspired after several attempts to explain the lockdown to his 5-year-old son.
“But he still didn’t get it until I kind of changed the narrative and said the coronavirus actually looks like a big monster and it is out there in the street and if you go it will catch you,” he told Reuters.
Ezichi Nwaogu, 9, described his favorite part was when the boy opened the door and saw the coronavirus, the monster, outside, and he slammed the door and had to go inside. “Now I know that this is not the right time to go anywhere or outside,” he said.
Akinmolayan made the animation through his production company, Anthill Studios, using a 10-strong crew all working separately from their homes.
It is being distributed for free and can be downloaded in English, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, French and Swahili. https://we.tl/t-EBxBabZaxt
According to provisional modelling, anywhere between thousands and millions of Africans may become infected with the coronavirus. But this frightening statistic by regional WHO spokesman was disputed by the head of emergency operations for WHO Africa.
“This is still to be fine-tuned,” said Michel Yao at a media teleconference. “It’s difficult to make a long-term estimation because the context changes too much.” Also, he added, “public health measures when they’re fully implemented can actually have an impact.”
Yao noted that similar worst-case predications for the Ebola outbreak had not come true because people changed behaviour in time.
So far, there have been 17,000 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease on the African continent and about 900 deaths – relatively little compared to some other regions.
Infections in South Africa, which has the highest number of cases, have slowed after they launched a strict lockdown, but other nations – like Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Algeria – have seen higher than average fatalities.
The WHO is working with authorities there to improve patient care and reduce fatalities, said Matshidiso Moeti, director for WHO’s Africa region, which comprises 46 sub-Saharan nations and Algeria.
These efforts, however, could be stalled by President Donald Trump’s recent attacks on the UN health body including his threat to withdraw funding for the agency.
This could harm both the fight against the virus and against other disabling and life-threatening diseases like polio, HIV and malaria, Ms. Moeti warned.
“The impact, potentially, of this decision will be quite significant on polio eradication,” said Moeti, “just when Africa was close to being declared polio-free.”
Trump accused the Geneva-based WHO of promoting Chinese “disinformation” about the new coronavirus, saying this had probably worsened the outbreak and that he would stop its funding even as he defended his own handling of the crisis.
More than 2 million people have been infected globally, with the largest number in the United States.
Washington is the biggest donor to the WHO, which tackles specific diseases and also strengthens national health systems. The United States contributed more than $400 million to the WHO in 2019, roughly 15% of its budget.
“We are very much hoping (suspension of funding) will be re-thought because the U.S. government is an important partner not only in financial terms but as an important strategic partner,” Moeti said.
Partial lift of lockdown in Ghana
“In view of the modest successes at containing the spread of the coronavirus,” President Nana Akufo-Addo announced in a televised address “the partial lockdown in Accra and Kumasi is being lifted.”
Four major cities in the Greater Accra, Ashanti and Central regions had been under lockdown since March 31, following confirmation of 137 cases. The president said the decision was based on science and data and any future course of action would be determined by these same factors. He acknowledged, however, the severe impact the lockdown had on the poor and vulnerable.
This makes Ghana the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to lift movement restrictions.
According to Bloomberg news, the most recent number of infections after 21 days of movement restriction was 1,042.
Residents of the capital, Accra, and major centres were allowed to return to work starting even though other restrictions such as school closures and a ban on sport and religious meetings remain in place, Akufo-Addo said in a televised address.
The disease brought three years of economic expansion of 6% or more to a sudden halt in the nation of 30 million people, with the finance ministry forecasting that growth could slow to 1.5%, the least in 37 years.
The President highlighted the country’s accomplishments, namely undertaking aggressive contact tracing of infected persons, enhancing the capacity to test, expanding the numbers of treatment and isolation centres, “our better understanding of the dynamism of the virus, the ramping up of our domestic capacity to produce our own personal protective equipment, sanitizers and medicines.”
The ban on mass gatherings and the closure of Ghana’s borders to human traffic, however, remain in force.
The announcement came as a surprise to some who were anticipating an extension or a national lockdown following a spike in the number of confirmed cases across the country.
Ghana’s coronavirus case count has increased steadily since the index case was reported on March 12 and has spread to 10 of its 16 regions.
Of the total of 1,043 cases, the majority are in Accra (882) and Kumasi (62). Of the number, 99 persons have recovered and have been discharged while nine have died.
Rwanda saddled with ‘loans’
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund stretched out their hands this month to struggling countries in Africa, most recently approving a $109.4 million debt reduction grant to Rwanda under the enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative.
This will serve to meet Rwanda’s urgent balance of payment needs stemming from the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fund said in a press release.
The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly unfolding, the IMF continued, with the near-term outlook deteriorating quickly. This has given a rise to significant fiscal and external financing needs. The authorities have acted fast by putting in place measures to help contain and mitigate the spread of the disease, they said.
The funds will provide financing to the budget for increased spending aimed at containing the epidemic and mitigating its economic impact, noted the IMF. But unlike a grant, the IMF funds must be repaid “to preserve debt sustainability in the medium term.”
Private creditors have agreed on a voluntary basis to roll over or refinance $8 billion in debt, a French finance ministry source said, but not cancel it, meaning interest would continue to accrue.
Even French President Emmanuel Macron agreed that African countries should be helped by “massively cancelling their debt.”
David Himbara, a Rwandan-Canadian professor, in an article titled: “(President) Kagame is drowning Rwanda in Debt”, observed that this is the second brush with massive foreign debt for the central African nation. Under the IMF’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, some $1.4 billion was erased from Rwanda’s obligations in 2008, leaving $668 million. Its total debt today, according to the Public Debt Clock is over $13 billion.
The UK-based Jubilee Debt Campaign is leading a push by nearly 140 campaign groups and charities for cancellation – not moratoriums – of debt payments by the poorest countries.
Tim Jones, the head of policy at the Jubilee Debt Campaign, urged the IMF and World Bank to waive payments to themselves and urge private investors to suspend taking debt payments.
“It would be outrageous if private speculators keep taking high interest payments from poor countries at this time of crisis,” Jones said. [IDN-InDepthNews – 22 April 2020]
Collage of coronavirus affected Africa and animated video by INPS-IDN.
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This article was produced as a part of the joint media project between The Non-profit International Press Syndicate Group and Soka Gakkai International in Consultative Status with ECOSOC on 22 April 2020.
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