THE ENEMY WE DO NOT KNOW

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To The Origin we do not know.

To The colour, black or white, we do not know.

To The cure we do not yet have.

Since December 2019, the world has become host to a novel virus, named SARS-Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). The name was given by science, so the real name at creation if there was one, we do not know. What we know is that the disease it causes, Covid-19 has become a global pandemic. Its movement across the world has been a subject of much speculation, be it by land, sea or air, we do not know. There have been instances where people in remote areas of the world who had neither travelled nor been in contact with sojourners or returnees have been diagnosed with the disease. The disease is now humanity’s most dreaded enemy and it is no respecter of persons, gender, or status. 

For close to fifteen months, this enemy has upended the way of life of every human being and every economy on Earth. Industries, corporations, and businesses both big and small have been negatively affected. Nations have been struggling to bail out their most profitable companies in various sectors. Yet, some have gone under or shed workers. Many recreational and professional sports all over the world that are enjoyed by the poor, the rich, the haves and have-nots, are suspended or scaled back, or performed without fans or limited fans. The Summer Olympics of 2020 had been postponed to this year. The world which is currently struggling with a second wave of this pandemic is still not sure if it will hold.

With no known cure to the disease, the brave frontline teams of health-workers, doctors, and first responders bore the brunt and frontal attacks from this virus as they battled to keep the infected and dying alive. Nothing about the disease has been definitively understood so treating the sick was largely processes in life experimentation. So the casualties were sickening. Covid-19 dragged down everyone exposed to it, leaving families and friends to mourn the loss of individuals dedicated to care for humanity. And these brave health warriors could not stop caring for that is their job; their means of livelihood and the conscientious oaths they have all taken would not let them go AWOL. 

In the midst of this ignorance, another group of lifesavers were hard at work; the Virologists. Using the tools of science, they waged multifaceted wars in trying to understand the characteristics of this virus, from its composition to its genetics, and mode of cellular attack. Realising that it is similar to the cold virus and the flu virus, and not having a therapeutic drug for its cure, the scientists embarked on a race against time to discover a vaccine that will slow down the rate of infestation. Miraculously, within a year, different companies discovered, synthesized, tested, and deployed vaccines that have been proven to be effective in fighting the virus, reducing the need for hospitalisation of those infected, and hence drastically cutting down to near zero the certainty of death for those hospitalized or too sick.

Early in the second quarter of 2020 it was announced that Nigerian scientists were also carrying out research into discovering possible vaccines for this viral disease. In the last six months about five different companies in America and Europe, as well as China and Russia have either publicly deployed their vaccines or are in the process of obtaining statutory authorization for their use. Still no word from Nigeria on its own progress or lack of. There is no shame in not having developed a successful vaccine. Scientists all over the world do not succeed first time out in every experiment or drug synthesis.  So many have failed in this quest. But the difference between us and other countries is in the inexplicable secrecy we attach to our actions, studies, and medical research as if we are on the verge of discovering a new universe. Some of us celebrated the fact that our scientists were standing up to the challenge and we hoped and prayed that the Federal Government and the private sector will support them, just the way the US Governments and citizens supported their big pharmaceutical industries to produce the vaccines that are now deployed. 

Not every country has produced vaccines. Those who have not, are known to have made concrete efforts to either receive from the companies who have developed theirs or from the UN sponsored COVAX facility, or from Russia and China. If it is true that our scientists are still in search of our own vaccines, they should continue and not stop on the account of what has been deployed by others. We now know that so many variants of the virus are making their ways around the world through mutations of the of the original virus. If this trend continues, a complete eradication of the virus may become impossible. What will most likely be the norm is that the virus may be mutating every few years, making it imperative for us to produce booster shots or different variants of the vaccines to target the new mutants. So to help our economy and security, we need to be able to produce our own vaccines for our use here. 

In the meantime, we can make do with the vaccines that have already been produced by others. On February 24, Ghana became the first African nation to receive about 600,000 units of Covid-19 vaccine from COVAX facility run by the UN. Cote D’Ivoire is scheduled to receive some later this week. On the 2nd of March, Nigeria received nearly 4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from COVAX. The delivery is part of a first wave of arrivals in Nigeria that will continue in the coming days and weeks. 

From the beginning of this pandemic, this little-known virus has troubled me. When the scientists isolated it from the infected in China, they realised that most of its physiology approximated-that of the well-known coronaviruses. Particularly, they determined it was close to some coronavirus found in bats. Now think of this, bats have been around for thousands of years. They are mammals, even though they fly like birds. Which means they have some characteristics close to those of man. Most importantly, bats have many interactions with man and his habitats. Bats lived in the caves with cave men and they still venture into isolated homes every so often. Bats feed on fruits and in the process help in pollination and seed dispersals. So they are important in the growth and propagation of fruit trees both in the wild and in cultivation. When bats hang out on any fruit tree, they do so in great numbers, feeding on the fruits and insects. Bats are known to sample fruits before abandoning those with savoury tastes, or when in a hurry answering the call to leave, with their tell-tale bite marks left behind. Man and other mammals who feed on these fruits when ripened could possibly be ending up with some contents of the bat’s saliva in their guts. So, can that be one way of catching this virus? We do not know. 

Earlier in this pandemic, I argued that there was a lot we did not understand about the ecosystems of our real estate in this world. The fauna and flora of the different ecological entities like the rain forest, the wetlands, the savannah, the Sahel and water bodies are all different but have linkages that enhance and sustain a healthy Earth. When any of these linkages gets broken through processes of degradation over time the consequences to life generally, are unknown and unpredictable. We only struggle to understand them after the fact. Ecologists believe that if all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate to the rich state of equilibrium that existed thousands of years ago. But if insects were to vanish completely, the environment as we know it would collapse into chaos.

In terms of its beginning, we were told that this virus made its first human-contact-landfall in Wuhan Province of China. In recent times, China has debunked that general belief. As a matter of fact, there have been pockets of inexplicable deaths in some other parts of the world well before December 2019 that some scientists are equally sceptical of the Chinese origin of the virus. But following its own investigations spanning a period of over six weeks, WHO is about as certain as it can be from available evidence that the coronavirus was widely circulating in Wuhan Province in December 2019. What is certain also is that there must have been an animal-to-animal transmission before it got into humans. Even though the bat has been identified as one such animal, the rest are not yet known.

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