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COVID-19 As Seen from Africa, Fighting Epidemics Europe Won’t Even Study

I’ve just come back from Africa, a continent that has always struggled with terrible epidemics that Europe doesn’t even bother to study so as to avoid having to fight them. Besides, they’re far away from us.

I return to find my country in a panic and in despair. What’s happening? The Coronavirus epidemic has broken out. After engulfing China, it seems to have taken hold of Italy. How could something like this happen?

We’ll get back to that.

Today, I hear almost a lot of politicians thanking doctors and nurses, calling them “heroes”. “Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes,” writes Bertolt Brecht in Life of Galileo. That said, where was everyone when hospital beds were being cut; when the turnover of over 50 thousand doctors and 50 thousand nurses was blocked; when over 37 billion euros were cut in the past ten years; when scientific research was demeaned by having only 0.2% of the GDP invested in it?

Who was listening to the cries of distress of healthcare workers wanting to defend the right to healthcare for everyone; adolescents, the elderly, children, at any cost?

There is a rumor spreading that only younger people will be admitted to intensive care units because it’s impossible to treat all patients. That is false. Completely untrue. No doctor has ever allowed anyone to die. Not now, not ever. This must be clear to all. For over 40 years, I have lived and worked in hospitals and research institutions and I have personally witnessed the dedication and professionalism of healthcare operators who work night and day, around the clock. Are we really just noticing this now? Are we really just now realizing that we aren’t properly equipped? We have been denouncing this for years. And promptly ignored.

Do we all need to make sacrifices? Of course we do! But let’s also remember that the government protects health as a fundamental right of individuals and the interests of the general public, and guarantees free treatment to the poor (Art. 32 of the Constitution).

Did anybody see the chaos in our Emergency Rooms? How many of us experienced the humiliation of watching someone dear to us suffer in the ER, not because of doctors’ ineptitude but because of the lack of equipment and staff?

The lesson I’ve learned from my professional career in both rich countries (USA, UK, France) and impoverished countries (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kurdistan, Brazil, Somalia), is that we will survive this pandemic and overcome it. With the help of science and solidarity, we’ll get through this. We have to continue to show our concern for the sick and never lose the kindness of an act of love.

But what happens after?
Will we be able to make good use of this painful experience?
Is it true that Ex malo bonum (Out of bad comes good)?

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