With coronavirus, it is not just a condom shortage that’s coming

Sunday April 12 2020


By Bernard Tabaire

As of Thursday afternoon, 52 of 55 African states had reported nearly 11,500 coronavirus cases and 572 deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
The day after Covid-19 will be a very different one in many ways. Social distancing will enter everyday vocabulary and take on all manner of meanings. Economies will churn and spin.
But before tomorrow, some weird things are happening already. Rich countries are grabbing for themselves just about everything needed to medically fight the pandemic.

“Developing nations in Latin America and Africa cannot find enough materials and equipment to test for coronavirus, partly because the United States and Europe are outspending them,” The New York Times reported on Thursday under the headline: “In scramble for coronavirus supplies, rich countries push poor aside.”
The story further said: “The huge global demand for masks, alongside new distortions in the private market, has forced some developing countries to turn to Unicef for help. Etleva Kadilli, who oversees supplies at the agency, said it was trying to buy 240 million masks to help 100 countries but so far had only managed to source around 28 million.”

The here and now is a jungle. The chips are down, and the brutish nature of countries is showing its head. Solidarity apparently is just a word happily uttered in normal times.
The World Bank announced on Thursday (so much news on one day) that growth in “sub-Saharan Africa has been significantly impacted by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and is forecast to fall sharply from 2.4 per cent in 2019 to -2.1 to -5.1 per cent in 2020, the first recession in the region over the past 25 years.”

Mr Hafez Ghanem, the World Bank vice president for Africa, said: “We are rallying all possible resources to help countries meet people’s immediate health and survival needs while also safeguarding livelihoods and jobs in the longer term – including calling for a standstill on official bilateral debt service payments which would free up funds for strengthening health systems to deal with Covid-19 and save lives, social safety nets to save livelihoods and help workers who lose jobs, support to small and medium enterprises, and food security.”
Will some of the richer countries now grabbing everything for themselves come through, especially on the bilateral debt standstill?
Meanwhile, there is a related issue that will affect us on a large scale. The world is running out of condoms, thanks to a lockdown in Malaysia that affected the world’s main producer.

The UK’s Guardian newspaper at the end of March reported: “Malaysia’s Karex Bhd makes one in every five condoms globally. It has not produced a single condom in its three Malaysian factories for more than a week … That is already a shortfall of 100 million condoms …
The company is now operating, but with only 50 per cent of its workforce it will take a while to keep pace with demand.
The newspaper quoted the Karex boss: “We are going to see a global shortage of condoms everywhere, which is going to be scary,” he said. “My concern is that for a lot of humanitarian programmes … in Africa, the shortage will not just be two weeks or a month. That shortage can run into months.”

Africa comes off poorly again. On top of the likely increase in the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, we will make many babies. Given our proven prowess in this area in Uganda, we can prepare for a post-Covid-19 baby boom. What shall we do with all those new souls?
Besides we will quickly get crowded in this country. Life will indeed change in the post-pandemic world in ways both known and yet-to-be-known.
Alternatively, Africa may learn its hard lessons and emerge on the right side and begin to make the diverse continent work for its billion-plus people. No one else owes lunch.
For now, let’s stay safe.

Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.