It is as though the Basotho nation is a distant spectator as the world staggers around us. As we receive a rainy start to winter, Lesotho is undergoing a 14-day extension of the national lockdown from the 22nd April to the 5th of May 2020[i]. To date, the Ministry of Health maintains that the country is coronavirus-free. This assurance will carry greater weight when substantiated with statistical evidence.
The truth is, facts inspire confidence. Consider the country within which Lesotho is enclosed, South Africa. Released figures indicate that 168,643 tests have been conducted, with 4546 positive cases, 1473 recoveries, and 87 deaths[ii]. Our neighbor has the highest COVID-19 prevalence in Africa[iii]. This collated data points to the presence of intensive screening and testing, as has become best practice globally. Executive Director of World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Michael Ryan, has publicly applauded their work in confronting the virus.
Here at home, Minister of Health Mr. Nkaku Kabi specified in a news report on Lesotho Television (22 April) that two shipments of donated testing kits are set to be distributed around the country within the coming days. Official statements have also indicated that personal protective equipment (PPEs) are yet to reach all health workers, and widespread testing is still to get underway.
In the interim, life appears to pick back up in the streets of Maseru as informal sector traders returned to try make money to provide for their families. And indeed, life must go on as the threat posed by COVID-19 in Lesotho currently seems far less than those of poverty and hunger. Alas, communications engaged thus far on the virus seem inept and in need of support as people are interacting the same as in a pre-COVID-19 world.
There is a difference between ignoring something and being ignorant to it. Ignorance stems from drawing a conclusion on an issue without having access to, or an understanding of, a range of credible material. In this regard, concise evidence gives clearer comprehension, contributing to the formation of opinion. On the other hand, to ignore an issue, to knowingly overlook information as it is not in line with one’s personal interests or ambitions, is a condition that is harder to excuse. Our people cannot afford complacency in response to COVID-19. The health guidelines advised by the WHO need to be normalized by our society, for life now and beyond the national lockdown.
Although the introduction of widespread testing is a pressing priority, engagement through communication remains paramount. This lockdown period can be used effectively to further spread information about the pandemic. Resources are scarce and means limited, however, with what we already have, our people can be empowered with the knowledge needed to protect themselves and reduce transmission and contraction of the disease.
Lesotho is a third world country with one of the poorest economies in the world. Approximately 75% of the population lives in rural Lesotho[iv]. Reference can be made to other countries’ actions and adjusted to Lesotho’s setting. For example, the Tzaneen municipality (Limpopo, South Africa) has launched a project to create awareness and sensitize people in communities about COVID-19, by flying drones that communicate relevant messaging and encourage compliance during their lockdown[v]. This idea can be adapted to our own context, especially in relation to the rural areas of our country.
The practice of conveying public announcements using a PA system and a moving vehicle is a known activity in Lesotho, especially with regards to community gatherings – known as Lipitso. It is a feasible method which can be used for COVID-19 education at the grassroot community level. The messaging would have to include information on: physical and social distancing; frequent handwashing using soap and water, and the use of a sanitizer; practicing proper coughing and sneezing etiquette; and wearing a mask – particularly important as the use of masks is increasingly being made mandatory by various countries in public spaces. Furthermore, informing Basotho of the upcoming mass testing by health workers will be needed to facilitate acceptance and cooperation. Such an initiative, through collaboration by government agencies and civil society, can be done across the country making use of inexpensive inputs.
Regrettably, the hindrances in developing a formidable national response to the pandemic are not just the fruits of limited capacity. Ever the black sheep, Lesotho appears to continually defame herself with stories that rival those of fellow regional SADC member, Zimbabwe. News reports highlight renewed political instability for which the country has become too well-known, in this instance regarding the stepping down of the Prime Minister.
Lesotho finds herself in a state of deja-vu, where the issues are the same, only played by new characters. Once again, the legacy of an African leader is tarnished by an unwillingness to relinquish power that finely treads on tyranny and shows disregard for the well-being of the people. Public faith lies in the ability of our governments, especially in times of crisis, to carve a path through unknown and potentially perilous settings. When leadership is diverted from issues of national – and as is the case with COVID-19, global – priority, its followers will follow suit, at times to their detriment.
How saddening it is to see that even now, amid a global pandemic, such disputes require foreign intervention to resolve. A South African envoy sent to Lesotho by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday 20th April 2020, saw the agreement of a ‘dignified retirement’ of the Prime Minister[vi]. This has yet to materialize. Our government must put the welfare and safety of Basotho above all else, more so now when people need to be prepared for the tribulations that will result from the COVID-19 pandemic.
With close to three million confirmed cases globally, and 200,000 lives lost[vii], COVID-19 persists in its relentless attack on humanity. Countries are sustaining measures to prevent the virus’ spread with national lockdown extensions and revisions of government regulations. Director General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said that COVID-19 will be a part of our lives for some time.
As dramatic as it may sound, humanity must evolve to ensure preservation of life. Too many lives are being lost across the world, too much pain being felt. This disease is sure to have a lingering effect on humankind.
Across nations, socio-economic and cultural norms will need to adapt to a life that is cognizant of this virus. Every action from all of us matters, to protect ourselves and our nation. Let us take care and stay safe.
[i] Official Speeches; https://www.gov.ls/document-category/official-speeches/
[iv] World Population Review; https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/lesotho-population/
[vi] Lesotho Times; http://lestimes.com/i-am-not-quitting-soon-thabane/
[vii] World Health Organization; https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019