NAIROBI – Here in Nairobi the Omicron variant has brought great fear. In Tanzania, on the border with Lesotho, a blacklisted country, no one knows what to do: “Are we closing down too?”, A local minister told Kenyan television. In South Africa, where the Omicron variant has exploded, there is widespread fear of the unknown resistance to the double vaccine of the new aggressive variant, but above all there is rabies. “A lot of anger at having already been unjustly isolated from the world,” N’Kosozana Dlamini Zuma, minister for regional cooperation, told Repubblica. “We acted responsibly by immediately reporting new cases, the World Health Organization says it does not react impulsively by closing the borders and the West, on the other hand, closes its doors to us and to seven other neighboring countries, aggravating the economic damage from which we were staying. just recovering “.
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Zuma is not only the minister for regional cooperation in South Africa, she was also president of the African Union (AU), a candidate for the presidency of South Africa in the last elections and a medical degree with a past, in exile, as a researcher in tropical diseases . When Nelson Mandela won the first free elections in South Africa, he called her as Minister of Health. He has not since left his political career. It is right to listen to her therefore because her voice counts not only in South Africa, but in the whole of Africa where, as the first female president of the African Union, she became a continental celebrity.
“Reacting so impulsively against us is selfish,” he warns. “Above all, it sends the wrong message to those who resist the vaccine.” Zuma explains that what is happening now in South Africa is very dangerous, because people begin to doubt the usefulness of vaccines if they react with drastic measures at the first warning sign. “We are organizing a test carpet operation at provincial level to verify the spread of the new variant. Unfortunately we also know that we must wait to see if this variant will be able to beat the double vaccine, but we have reacted flawlessly, woe to send these negative messages “.
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This is precisely the obstacle identified by Zuma: people could refuse to respond to the aggressive carpet vaccination program still underway in South Africa and other African countries if they realize that the vaccine is no longer recognized as a guarantee and that it is “punished” all the same. “Travelers would just need to ask for a double dose of vaccine and a negative molecular test: they would be proof that the people entering are not carriers of the virus. Western countries, on the other hand, close the door on us, but then settle for a quick test, not very effective, for travelers arriving from abroad thus putting their populations at risk “.
Here in Nairobi, on the other hand, the pressure to close the still open borders increases. The country did very well during Covid. He is very strict on requests at the entrance and has had prodigious results. With 53 million inhabitants it had only 255 thousand cases and 5,300 deaths. In Italy, for comparison, out of 60 million inhabitants there were 5 million cases and 134 thousand deaths, more than twenty times the rate in Kenya. Zuma says that this resistance is explained by the administration of a medicine for “river blindness”, a disease caused by the bite of an infected fly that introduces larvae into human blood. The larvae, if allowed to grow, attack the sight until they cause absolute blindness. Treatment must be preventative with a medicine called Ivermectin which also helps the immune system resist Covid.
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And in Kenya, especially in the most remote rural areas, river blindness is widespread. According to recent studies, 99% of cases of this disease are recorded in Africa. The fact that it has an advantage due to these factors, including a very young average population, does not reassure Kenya. The country has Tanzania as its only buffer with Lesotho, one of the eight countries blacklisted to join the US. The others are South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
For now, the Kenyan authorities have not closed the borders, but it is feared that this variant could have devastating effects. For example, it is feared that Dubai, from where hundreds of tourists arrive every day, may decide to close in a preventive manner if there are cases also here, where for now the Omicron variant is absent. Emirates, for example, could suspend flights as early as tomorrow. “I believe, I hope, that African solidarity prevails over fears – says Zuma – if they begin to create misplaced suspicions among us, it would be the end”.