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How resource-poor Burkina Faso deals with Covid-19

1 March 2021 05:12 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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"The vaccine can protect those vaccinated from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but it can’t stop them transmitting it, even if there may be no outward signs of symptoms"

 

The anti-Covid-19 vaccines now being rolled out across the globe represent a medical triumph and should reduce the pandemic to a level we can live with before this year is out. But they also raise a host of other, sometimes disturbing, issues.


To start with, in case those getting vaccinated can get complacent, they will still need to wear masks and maintain social distancing. The vaccine can protect those vaccinated from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but it can’t stop them transmitting it, even if there may be no outward signs of symptoms.
The world will have to live with those contradictions until a new super vaccine comes along.  But such dampers clearly mean nothing to millions across the globe now rushing to get the jab, often using influence, subterfuge and outright lies to get priority and jump queues. 


In Canada, millionaire Casino executive Rodney Baker and his actress wife Ekaterina Baker were fined $ 1800 for posing as locals at a remote settlement for elderly indigenous people to get Moderna vaccines. But White River Nation elders said the fine would mean nothing to such wealthy people and demanded tough punishment.
In Orange County in the US, two women aged 33 and 44 who wore fake glasses and make up to look older, trying to cheat their way to a second dose of vaccine, were spotted by law enforcement officials who told them: “You’ve stolen a vaccine from somebody who needs it more than you.”
Among those who have gained notoriety for queue-jumping are Spanish generals, Austrian mayors, Peruvian officials and Lebanese politicians.


Though queue-jumping is almost a tradition in Sri Lanka, what’s happening in our vaccine queues is still somewhat unclear. There doesn’t seem to be a huge scramble for the vaccine, and the government has given priority to the security forces and health care sector. But in some countries, no such priorities based on jobs are given. In the UK, for example, unions representing police, prison officers and teachers have protested against the decision to base the next stage of the coronavirus vaccination programme purely on age, with no account taken for 
people’s profession.

"Tengandogo is a private facility that treats the country’s most critical patients, but since March it has treated people with coronavirus free of charge"

The recommendation of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), endorsed by the UK government, means people over 40 will be the next group to be prioritized once those in phase 1 of the rollout, aimed at older people, have been offered at least one dose of the vaccine.


But the Police Federation of England and Wales called the decision “an utter betrayal of police officers”. A spokesman for the federation added:  “Many officers are reporting sick or self-isolating and our numbers are falling, sometimes dangerously low. We have also lost a number of colleagues to this virus, too. Yet the government continues to hide behind the science of the JCVI. What about a moral duty to my colleagues and their families?”
Then there is the dilemma of those who do not want to get vaccinated. To make it mandatory would amount a violation of basic human rights. Nevertheless, all across Europe, green ‘vaccine passports’ are 
being contemplated.


This week, one of Britain’s biggest care home operators announced that staff members who refuse the vaccine will be considered to have made themselves unavailable for work – in other words, they could lose their jobs.  Even if this ‘dire straits’ standard doesn’t spread to other sectors, such a move rings an alarm bell for the future. However, for the UK government (or any government for that matter) to pass such a law would amount to 
political suicide.
Taking a look at how an African country with scant resources is dealing with the pandemic, Burkina Faso sets a good example.


Stocks of medical equipment in the general ward of Tengandogo University hospital in the capital ran low as resources were diverted to the coronavirus unit. Medical staff bought the essentials themselves. Blood pressure monitors, glucose monitors and oximeters were needed. Even the ink in the printers had to be replaced.
The hospital closed to non-Covid patients during Burkina Faso’s first wave in March 2020, but reopened in July to treat the numerous other illnesses that affect the population of approximately 20 million people. Without any emergency budget for resources, doctors faced a challenge. But they started a programme to buy what’s needed ourselves. 

"Where the timing is concerned, the situation in Burkina Faso runs a close parallel with Sri Lanka. This country’s health care system could be better resourced than Burkina Faso’s. But just how close has it come to being overwhelmed?"

Tengandogo is a private facility that treats the country’s most critical patients, but since March it has treated people with coronavirus free of charge.
Before the pandemic, Burkina Faso had a shortage of specialist staff, especially in rural areas where the quality of care is considerably lower. Poor salaries coupled with growing insecurity in the north and east due to political violence have led many young professionals to leave, and deterred others from coming. In Tengandogo, the staff members are overworked, and when some have had to self-isolate, it has been a struggle.


Respiratory diseases such as pneumonia are the leading cause of death in Burkina Faso. There are only 30 lung specialists in the country. Pneumonia is the primary cause of death. As the Director of Tengandogo, Dr. Ferdinand Tiendrébéogo puts it: “When you look at the figures, coronavirus is not a priority. It’s very small compared to, say, malaria. That said, you do need to keep an eye on Covid because you never know what can happen with it, but overall it’s been a very resource-intensive disease for this hospital.”


According to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 11,847 lab-confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Burkina Faso and 139 deaths. The true figure is thought to be higher as testing is limited to about 2,000 rapid tests a day. Track and trace is nonexistent and daily life for millions of people continues as normal despite some earlier restrictions. Since late November the country has seen a second wave that led to a spike in admissions and renewed fears that hospitals could be overrun. 


Dr. Jerry-Jonas Mbasha, health cluster coordinator for the WHO in Burkina Faso, says: “We need to understand the fragility of the health system here before Covid-19 and what’s happened over the last year is a significant amount of extra stress. There already was a strategy to identify specific respiratory diseases across the country and what we did to ensure that continued to function was integrate Covid testing into that structure and that’s been quite effective.”


For Séré, Covid is more of an economic problem than a health emergency. “It’s changed our access to resources and the attention it’s getting here is disproportionate compared to the impact,” he says.
Where the timing is concerned, the situation in Burkina Faso runs a close parallel with Sri Lanka. This country’s health care system could be better resourced than Burkina Faso’s. But just how close has it come to being overwhelmed? There have been no candid interviews with doctors and medical staff. All we get are statistics, so many patients cured and released daily, and the death rate is still quite low. We always feel better when we compare ourselves to other countries. There are many countries which are worse off, and this isn’t just about Covid 19.


This country has always been fuelled by a good dose of complacency. It’s a national trait, and unfortunately, no vaccine has yet been developed against that virus.

Vaccination programme in Burkina Faso

 

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