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CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC: EFFECTS OF POOR HEALTH CARE SYSTEM IN A CAPITALIST SETTING

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By Biodun Olamosu


Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was discovered in Wuham region of China late December 2019. All efforts to curtail this proved abortive. By March 2020, this has spread like wild fire to Europe, Australia, and the rest of Asia and Middle East. Other parts of the world including America and Africa have been reached. The entire world is now counting losses and casualties of dead and infected cases in thousands and millions respectively.

Coronavirus is a disease caused by novel virus with a characteristic of sporadic transmission with the speed of light. Its kind was experienced first in 1960s with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-Cov2). It came in another form, more deadly in 2012 with what was called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-COV). In this regard one-third of the 2,040 confirmed cases of those infected by the disease resulted to death.

Humans had no doubt hitherto passed through such fatalistic experiences of infectious diseases caused by virus, bacteria and poor hygienic conditions. Such instances of pandemic were in forms of flu, influenza, small pox, chicken pox, cholera, typhoid, ebola, tuberculosis, fever, laser fever, etc. that are also prevalent in our clime up to the present period.

Such prevalent and infectious diseases had caused great harms to humanity by drastically reducing the population by millions. To mention but a few of such pandemics historically, this include: one-third of the population wiped off by Bubonic plague spanning fifteen years under the Roman Empire in 165AD. 10millions deaths recorded about 400years later in 541-767 AD. The plague by Black rat that started in Mongol Empire and later spread to Europe in 1346-70 claiming not less than one-third of lives of the extant population; 90percent of the Central Mexico population were wiped off in such circumstances in 1558 by what was known as old World Disease in America. Indigenous population of Peru at the same period fell from about 7million to about half a million. In the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe, 400,000 deaths occurred annually from small pox. Russia flue in 1889-90 that spread to Europe, America, South Africa, India, etc claiming 270,000 – 360,000 lives. The Spanish flu that coincided with the First World War claimed 50-100million lives. India alone recorded 18.5million (estimate) deaths; Asian flu (1957) – two million deaths; Hong Kong flu (1968) – one million deaths. In Africa even without adequate statistics, the continent has been ravaged in the contemporary period by such epidemics – Laser-Fever, Fever, Typhoid, Cholera, Small Pox, Chicken Pox, Missiles, Flu, Influenza, Ebola and Tuberculosis claiming millions of lives. Fever alone is responsible for nothing less than 500,000 deaths in Nigeria.

Also significant is the factor responsible in the distribution or spread of the pandemic in Nigeria for instance. This is associated with the elite that frequently travel abroad for business, tourism or governmental purposes. This is the very reason that the first group of casualties that contacted the disease was top government officials including some governors, former ambassadors and President Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abbah Kyari. Abbah Kyari became the topmost government official that died from this cause among the already 107 declared deaths to date.

This way by which Coronavirus spread is not unusual to other forms of pandemics in history that had a record of its distribution by way of travelling to engage in business, trade, war, conquest (from war), colonial rule, immigration, tourism purpose, in the course of relationship between animals and workers directly in charge of farms, health workers directly involved in the treatment of cases of persons with health challenges and officials of government that travel on official errands.

The preponderance of epidemics and pandemics could not be dissociated with agricultural environment. Research by scientists found out that animals had been the natural source of virus, bacteria and disease only to infect human since its existence. Such identified animals include birds, bat, monkey, rat and other domestic animals such as pig, duck, dog, chicken, cat, camel, donkey, etc. The process of its transmission, that is, mutation from animals to humans is called zoonosis. According to findings self-inducement of virus or bacteria in human is virtually impossible. “It took the genome of the human species eight million years to evolve by one percent. Many animal RNA viruses can evolve by more than one percent in a matter of days”.

This truism could account for why in contemporary Africa ebola was said to have been caused by bat and monkey; while laser fever and typhoid are being associated with domestic rats. In the same way, the cause of Coronavirus (COVID-19) is being associated with pig, dog, cat and donkey. Typical of the process by which transmission of Influenza, for instance, took place involved birds having digestive disorders which caused it to pass out excretion that invariably resulting to creation of virus. Infection causing influenza is easily made possible in human on having contact with such virus. Such transmission is usually aided by intermediary animals especially domesticated animals apart from the primary agents as in the bush meets such as birds, bat or monkey.

One significant phenomenon of Coronavirus (COVID-19) like other category of epidemics and pandemics is that it happens in a social, political and economic context. In the capitalist setting as we have it today, it is patterned in the way of few people that own the means of production dictating the system of commodity production, exchange and distribution; in order to maximize profits propensity. This is being carried out at the expense of both nature and the working people at the receiving end of exploitation.

The system is also a boost in aiding emergence and spread of epidemics and pandemics throughout history. Unlike hitherto pandemics induced by closeness of human to nature caused by animals, as ready agents of transmission in respect of virus, bacteria and disease; the system serves as proximate cause of disease in the course of organizing agro-business along animal’s husbandry. In this respect, the negative effect associated with animals in the transmission and creation of virus and bacteria made possible in the process of capitalist economic development over that of nature – natural means of transmission in the early evolution of human. This capitalist development take the path of disequilibrium of the ecosystem in the way of deforestation thereby resulting to birds, rats or bats for instance being destabilised to leave their natural habitat; for want of where to go chose to return back to the urbanized cities. It is in these circumstances that it becomes dysfunctional to the environment as agent of creating virus, bacteria and disease to other secondary animals that transmit such virus ultimately to human thereby resulting to cause harms to thousands and millions.

Situation of this kind has not only caused owners of capital economic setback but the entire society at large was affected. There were situations where millions of chickens and pigs in poultry and piggery farms respectively were lost to such virus thereby causing total lose to the owners and impacted negatively to the economy.

On the other hand, the way capitalism, as the driving and motive force of society, is being organized give credence to an environment susceptible to transmission of virus, bacteria and disease. Friedrich Engels book titled: Condition of the Working Class in England is a compendium of the culture of poverty representing the ways of life of the working class being put in place by the capitalist system. This include how urbanization, industrialization, factory and effective transportation system, distribution mechanism and social infrastructures were in place solely for the purpose of enhancing the best interest of the rich – the owners of capital. The system instead of being of development to the working class it turns round to be opposed to it. The poor working condition was reminiscent of the slavery era. Workers were engaged throughout the day up to the night without break. Child labour was predominant, no provision for education of children of the working class as they were made to compete with their parents in the factories. The conditions of their homes were very appalling, the room where they sleep served different purpose as being used for kitchen purpose, bed space as well as resting room. A whole family of four or five was to share a room. Workers were to live in slums without necessary social infrastructures. Chemical and industrial wastes coming from the factories became source of pollution to the environment. The poor working and living conditions and environmental degradation became a ready source of breeding virus, bacteria and disease responsible for health hazard especially to the poor. This pattern of life associated with capitalist industrial environment has hardly changed and have been a potential risk and hazardous to the way human has been living.

The economic effects of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Nigeria and the World at large have been devastating and potential source of recession for the rest of the year. Millions of jobs have been lost as a result of the pandemic. Drastic fall in the price of oil during the period of lockdown and before the crisis of COVID-19 pandemic now stand at $16 per barrel. Nigeria is therefore expected to be in a serious problem as it is a mono cultural economy largely depends on oil; that made possible in the past period 95percent of its foreign exchange earnings and 85percent of government’s revenue. For the first quarter of the year, virtually no income accrued from oil as the major buyers – China and India could not buy for reason of the pandemic that viciously affected their economies that locked down for this period.

Finance sector of the economy could be drawn along with the crisis being experienced in the oil sector as the chunk of the debts owed to the banks are by the operators in this (oil) sector. So the possibility of gaining back such huge debts are very slim at least in the short and medium period.

In order to eke a living and for survival sake the government is likely to open another window of debt borrowing even when the already accumulated debt standing at $11.25billion is a source of concern.

While not trying to be a prophet of doom, by the yardstick of the existing state of the economy it is almost impossible to get the country out of the present bad situation by the present ruling elite. This is a country that 50percent of her population live in extreme poverty, 70percent are without drinking water and sanitation; 69percent urban residents live in slum conditions; 23percent of labour force is unemployed. Nigeria hospitals lack adequate equipment and poorly funded. Only 4.15percent of the 2020 budget allocation go to health sub-sector. This is a far cry from 15percent recommended by African Union in 2001.

The neglect of the health sector by Nigerian government is not an isolated case but a policy associated with the neoliberal regimes including the developed economies such as USA, China, UK, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Iran, Iraq, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Germany, etc. The result of the poor funding of health care by the capitalist system became the immediate cause of the crisis now associated with the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic across the world. The resultant crisis claimed over 275,000 lives worldwide while 3.94millions were infected, many of whom are still undergoing treatments. Nigeria has not seen the end to COVID-19 pandemic as this is biting harder in the major cities in the country including Lagos, FCT and Kano. Over 117 deaths have been recorded in the country to date while over 3,912 confirmed cases of infected people recorded.

The strategy of locking down economic activities adopted in stopping the prevalence and spread of the pandemic in Nigeria like other parts of the world has been problematic due to its peculiar situation. The ruling elites found it difficult to fund the lockdown as it was the case in some other climes. As a result the burden of hunger on the poverty ridden people caused the pressure on the state; hence the need for the relaxation of the lockdown that is not backed up with appropriate testing and adequate centres.

The living condition in a less developed country like Nigeria made social distancing recommended by World Health Organisation almost impossible. Apart from the few rich, most Nigerians live in a house where not less than five people share a room. Also, more working people, self-employed engaged on daily basis a job to eke a living. Without going out in a day to work, they could hardly eat and provide food on the table for their family members including the parents that largely depended on them.

This Coronavirus pandemic is the latest form of the crises of capitalism that is a follow up to the hitherto World Financial Crisis of 2008/9, Asian Tigers Crisis of 1990s, the Oil Crisis of 1979 and World Economic Crisis of the 1930s. Boris Johnson, UK prime minister has equated the crisis of COVID-19 with the Second World War for his country. While this might not be far from the truth, the facts remain that both circumstances were products of capitalism. In resolving the problems and crisis associated with the menace of capitalism, its ruling class has had cause to adopt some principles of socialism as therapy in resolving the crisis. When the problem would have been resolved by this approach, at least in the short run period, they reverse back to the system of capitalism again with its attendant ant-working people’s policies. This is also the case in the present period when some of the countries embarked on nationalization of the economy, while others started given out social grants and unemployment allowances. Some took the path of taking over private health care institutions. This is therefore an eye opener to the working people that they have at their disposal the key to unlock the crisis and challenges confronting humanity.

Nigeria has not been a push over in its contributions to medical science. This informed the number of professionals that it has helped to produce for the capitalist world. 2,000 of them were reported to be working for National Health Service (NHS) UK only. Not less than this figure could be found in other places like Saudi Arabia, USA, Germany, France, United Arab Emirate, etc. But for reason of the country’s ruling class being susceptible to the roles ascribed to it to play in the circumstances. The very reason medical doctors and health related professionals produced in the country and abroad are provided jobs abroad to serve at the tourist medical destination of the capitalist ruling elites. As capitalism could be described as that of uneven and combined development of underdevelopment, Nigerian ruling elite that subscribed to capitalism also in health care system spent more than $1billion on treatment in overseas hospitals in 2013 only.

Nigerian medical professionals have been on the lead in the field of alternative medicine as those in sociology of medicine have come to associate with holistic medicine in solving health care problem in our clime. But the ruling class that are closely tied to the aprons of the imperialist that would prefer to be the one on top of any discovery for the purpose of earning international prize or honour. Such competition between research institutions has been the bane of discovery and creativity in health care system.

The ruling class would not voluntarily on their own volition abdicate power to the working people even when they have shown umpteenth time that they are not capable of governing society free of crisis for the best interest of greater members of society that are the working people. The time to fight to change the situation in addressing the problems confronting humanity is now. Revolution as a world phenomenon is to come just like the crises of capitalism always spread across the globe. The issue paramount and central to be addressed by a socialist revolution is on how to organize society on a collectivist spirit to serve the interest of the working people at large. By this, the economy is to be owned by the working people and organized, administered or managed by the working people. Accountability shall be the watchword in the course of the people put in charge while discharging their duty to the society. This new way of organizing society shall be a break from the hitherto way of governance by the capitalist ruling elite that ruled in the best interest of few elite in society. The change shall be effective in all ramifications including social, civil society, political, economic, ideological, and philosophical those are to be in favour of the working people.

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