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Covid-19: How a Pandemic is Igniting Innovation Across Africa

Frederick Courage Agamah

Mrs Veronica Bekoe demonstrates how her invention is used.

The novel coronavirus has brought in its wake a lot of innovation and improvisation, with countless remedies proposed and dropped, some with fatal consequences. In China, traditional Chinese remedies combined with standard drugs and procedures have proved useful in the treatment of Covid-19 cases. Given the havoc the pandemic has caused in many developed countries such as France, Germany, Italy, and the US with all the advanced medical care they have, many predicted doom for Africa, which notoriously has a poorly developed medical system. The truth is if Africa experiences the pandemic on a scale of half of what has been seen in these countries, the medical system would very quickly collapse and usher a scale of carnage never experienced in human history. Melinda Gates famously stated that there would be dead bodies on the streets of Africa. She actually spoke the minds of many experts and observers, including Africans.

Why this has not yet happened in Africa is the subject of many theories. Many still predict that the pandemic has a potential for massive destruction in Africa. It must, however, be noted that Africa has not sat down quietly like the lame-duck many would want the world to believe. Several measures have been put in place in different countries on the continent to combat the spread of the pandemic.

The Rebirth of the Veronica bucket in Ghana

Automatic dispenser.

During the Ebola epidemic in Liberia and Sierra Leone, a Ghanaian Biological scientist and public health official, Veronica Bekoe, invented what would later be named after her-“the Veronica bucket”. It is a bucket with a lid usually used to store water and other liquids, which has been fitted with a tap close to the bottom to dispense water so that users can wash their hands under running water-one of the personal hygiene protocols prescribed for combating the pandemic. It has spawned a whole industry with many people developing expertise in fitting the taps to the buckets and others making metal contraptions to hold the bucket, the basin for collecting and disposing the dirty water, soap and towels-the Veronica bucket stands, for sale. These units, in different variations, can be seen across the continent in front of shops, homes, markets, virtually any place with an ‘entrance’. This innovation has solved the problem of lack of portable water in most parts of Africa, which would have made washing hands under running water impossible in many places without the assistance of another person.

A solar-powered variation that can automatically dispense liquid soap and water for handwashing has also been invented by a young Ghanaian man, Richard Kwarteng, a university graduate from Kumasi, to further enhance the washing of hands without touching any part of the contraption.

A Herbal Solution from Madagascar

Though the medical systems and research capability of African countries face several challenges, one thing Africa is known for is the abundance of medicinal plants. These have been used traditionally to keep the population healthy over several centuries. Currently, about 5 000 of them are recognized for the treatment of various ailments. The announcement by Andry Rajoelina, president of Madagascar, that his country had discovered the ‘cure’ for the COVID-19 was therefore received with mixed reactions. Many Africans welcomed it as reliable and several of them: Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania, Chad, among others have approved it and placed orders for it. Known as COVID Organics, the instant acceptance of this remedy is understandable. The ingredients are known all over Africa and have been used for generations. It is easy to imagine that the worst that could happen with its use is that it would not deliver the promised cure. Madagascar backs the claim of the efficacy of COVIDS Organic with an impressive domestic COVID-19 record of 193 confirmed cases, 101 recoveries, and 0 deaths. According to them, the secret has been COVID Organics.

COVID Organics.

On the other hand, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that there is no proof of the cure and has called for clinical trials of the drugs. South Africa has offered to assist Madagascar to carry out these clinical trials. Interestingly, the West African community has dissociated itself from rumors that member states have placed orders for the drug. The position of the WHO and other critics is understandable. The drug cannot be approved for universal consumption unless certain critical questions about it could be answered. Whatever happens, the image of Andry Rajoelina taking a sip of COVIDS Organics would remain an iconic one, a symbol of hope and faith that in the fight against the pandemic, a healthy African punch could be delivered to COVID-19.

Frederick Courage Agamah is the Operations Manager for AfroScience Network.