By Ayodele Ale
Many are crying due to the devastating effects of this pandemic, but many are also smiling to the banks. A sales boy in a pharmaceutical firm in Lagos told me he would never pray for the pandemic to end. “Our sales have jumped up”, he said. Initially, the cost of a piece of thermometer was around N50,000. My local church purchased one when the government made having one as a pre-condition for opening the churches in Nigeria. Later, the prices dropped to N25,000, and then, N17,000 when manufacturers seized the opportunity to flood the Nigerian huge market with all sorts of thermometers. Our parent church also parleyed with smart businessmen to purchase in bulk for the parishes. All kinds of sanitisers and hand washing soaps are daily flooding the market. Different kinds of face masks are on parade as manufacturers make brisk sales.
A friend to me, “The COVID business is super.’ According to him, a friend of his who was struggling for survival before the outbreak was able to complete two giant buildings within six months of the pandemic.
When the former President of the United States of America gave thumbs up to Chloroquine as the Corona Virus joker, there was a mad rush for the drug as people stock it in their houses, fearing it might soon be unreachable. Sales of Local herbs and concoctions including garlic, lime, ginger (raw or mixture) have also received a boost and farmers are not left out.
There was also the Madagascar concoction.
What of quarantine centres? It came in handy as government’s strategy to milk the system. In some northern cities in Nigeria, destitute were packed from the streets and taken to the quarantine centres. There was a video clip passed round through WhatsApp, where some patients in the quarantine centres were partying and doing calisthenics. Imaginary supplies and foodstuffs were ‘delivered’ to the quarantine venues, with ‘angelic cooks’ and attendants on payroll.
Curiously, some isolation centres ensure the ‘patients’ stay for weeks upon weeks to squeeze the last penny out of them, especially when they had to pay from their pockets. In Kogi state, a woman who came from UK for the burial of the mum fought the system after she has been confined, albeit forcefully in an isolation centre for almost two months without treatment on the claim that she was still positive. She had to enlist the services of a lawyer to escape from the entrapment.
At a point in Uganda, the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Health Diana Atwine lamented how some isolated people turned quarantine centres to brothels. She was quoted to have said, “Ugandans are not serious. Some who are in quarantine have even begun having (sexual) affairs. They move to rooms of others in the hotels where we have placed them. Others like in Mulago move from their rooms to visit their colleagues who are in other rooms. This is too dangerous and it will distract our efforts.”
In some countries, also, it was more of connivance between the supervisors of health ministries and hotel owners to get hotels designated as quarantine centres. At the initial stage, hotels that won the bid in some countries offer the conduct of mandatory PCR-Test for travelers as part of their packages for lodgers. Lab attendants often parade such hospitals to collect samples and make the ‘results’ available before departure.
Now, the vaccines have taken the shines off the local drugs as pharmaceutical products and nations project it as the ultimate saviour. Johnson and Johnson, AstraZeneca, Moderna, mRNA and Pfizer-BioNTech are being manufactured and pumped into human bodies per second. After the first and second doze, they tell you to still go for the booster shot, with the strict instruction that it does not render outdated, the traditional methods of prevention, such as maintaining special distancing, hand washing and application of sanitizer.
The trillion dollar business is not complete without the manufacturing of PCR machine with its accessories. PCR test is compulsory, especially if you are an international traveler. In some places, they ask you if you want the real PCR test or you just want a paper evidencing that you have passed through it. In Lagos, the real test costs up to N50,500 while the fake one could cost between N20,000 to N30,000 – It is a matter of choice and size of pocket.
A friend told me how a Federal Government owned hospital labelled the corpse of his brother’s wife who died from leukemia related complications, as COVID-19 related deaths. The husband had to fight the hospital, rejecting the ‘Corona Virus related death’ tag on his wife before the remains could be released to him for burial. A colleague from an African country also informed of how a hospital begged their family to accept that a Corona Virus complications death certificate be issued to them in respect of a departed member of the family, with a promise to foot the burial bill. They however rejected the proposal.
Religious organisations even conduct Corona Virus prayer and deliverance sessions and take offerings and pledges at the end of each session.
It was learnt that some health officials in some countries even buried empty coffins, and arranged professional mourners to weep at the graveside for a fee.
As learnt, some conscientious individuals who were not comfortable with the fake statics being churned out to get the sponsorship and grants of donor agencies had to resign, believing that a good name is better than silver and gold.
Travelers are worse hit as the festive season draws nearer. With the Delta variant almost knocked off, OMICRON is on the loose. Many airports are making quick business, forcing travelers, including those on transit to pay for a ‘rapid test’, whose results are not made available for days, while the persons tested continue to roam the streets unhindered. A woman told me she had to fight at one of the international airports before the result of her ‘rapid test’ could be made available so that she could proceed with her journey the following day. “I went to shout in their supervisor’s office before they sent it to my email, but my colleague’s own were yet to be released before I left the country” she recalled.
This morning, I received a video clip shared on WhatsApp on how a facility in one of the western countries collect payment for tens of thousands of samples for PCR test which are not processed at the end of the day.
The COVID-19 business beat goes on.￼
*Ayodele Ale, a journalist and lawyer, works on peace and development issues.