Amid the cacophony of news about Covid-19, an important public statement by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) almost fell through the cracks this week, Ryland Fisher writes.
Amid the cacophony of news about Covid-19, an important public statement by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) almost fell through the cracks this week, Ryland Fisher writes.

Covid-19 can help Africa unite, a group of scientists believe

By Ryland Fisher Time of article published May 23, 2020

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Amid the cacophony of news about Covid-19, an important public statement by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) almost fell through the cracks this week.

The academy describes itself as “the only statutory academy in the country established to provide the government and the public with evidence-based advice on issues of pressing national concern”.

It said some of its members, who come from all scientific disciplines, are advising the government on effective ways of dealing with the pandemic, while others are involved in global vaccine trials to identify treatments for Covid-19.

The ASSAf commended the government for its quick and effective response to the pandemic but said there were three areas where the government could strengthen it.

It wants structures, such as the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), to include in its advisory bodies scientists from a broader range of disciplines; it advises that the NCCC expands its focus to a regional African context; and while it understands that the council has to deal with the immediate crisis, it suggests the government set up a scientific team to advise on the long-term impact on the economy, human settlements, the environment, health care and more.

This was the first time I saw anyone or a body with influence in our country talking about the need to locate the crisis in South Africa within a regional African context.

Laypersons, like myself, sometimes forget that scientists include psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, economists, social workers, political scientists and historians, and they can help better understand various aspects of the pandemic and in charting the way forward, for after the pandemic.

Whatever solutions we come up with in South Africa, we must see whether it can also be applied to our neighbouring countries and on the continent.

South Africans can be insular and often do not see or think beyond our borders. In fact, many of us don’t see or think beyond our province, our cities or our suburbs.

As many countries on the continent prepare to celebrate Africa Day as a public holiday on Monday, it is important for us to explore our role on the continent, and especially with our neighbours.

Our futures are intertwined. The best, and probably only, solution is to help develop the economies in the neighbouring countries and on the continent.

The ASSAf says: “In normal times, thousands of Africans travel every month between South Africa and the other SADC (Southern African Development Community) states and beyond. It is vital that the regional connectedness of our neighbours is accounted for in the deliberations of the National Coronavirus Command Council.

“We should do so not only because of the regional, integrated character of the public health crisis but as a statement of solidarity with African neighbour states with even more precarious national health systems.”

It believes “the collective expertise of leading scientists from across the African region would fortify a continental response to the pandemic in line with the vision of the African Union”.

I cannot agree more. The crisis has brought many South Africans closer together. It might also help bring us closer to our neighbours and other African countries. Happy Africa Day.

* Fisher is an independent media professional. Follow him on Twitter @rylandfisher

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media

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