God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

A decision costing lives

While parts of South Africa celebrating the first jabs and at the same time wonder, how a president and a minister of health jump the queue and have become overnight honorary frontline health care worker, there are more questions than answers.

There are indeed questions regarding the AstraZeneca vaccinations – 1.5 million jabs arrived with great fanfare in South Africa, received and checked by the President of the country himself – only to be overnight discarded as not effective enough via a small study without peer-to-peer review and even more questions than answers, when you listen to health care professionals behind closed doors. While the headline of a news outlet in South Africa reads: “WHO gives AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine emergency approval, says it works against variant first found in SA” the national Minister of Health is quick to say, that the vaccine – which was paid almost double the price as European buyers – will go the African Union for distribution in other African countries.

This will cost lives – as AstraZeneca clearly prevents severe disease and death – consequently would free up hospital beds and oxygen use in the third wave which will come without doubt in the winter months. 3/4 of a million people could be spared by using the vaccine to end up in hospital or even in a crematory.

But the story does not end here. One of the national vaccine protocol chairs is also – according to newspaper reports – wearing the hat of co-principal for a stage III study. Now the gap is filled with 80 000 vaccines to complete the trial, needed by the pharmaceutical company to acquire the emergency permission and the product consequently being added to the bouquet of vaccines available around the world. Obviously there is also the promise of more vaccines for South Africa from the same company.

Transparency looks different – insiders know how tough the fight for market shares is and how much money is at stake in the run for emergency approval and being able to sell the product. As much as it is nice to see vaccinations finally happening in South Africa, connecting the dots gives at least a picture which leads to more question than answers. And with all the cheer being produced by those pulling the strings behind the proverbial curtain the fact is that giving away the AstraZeneca vaccines will cost South African lives in the future. Experts are aware that none of the vaccine delivers a 100% protection and true is also, that one vaccination might not be enough on the long run. All companies work already on boosters, including also to cover the many variants of the virus; at the end such boosters will follow for most vaccines.

For now, it should be acted on what Christian Drosten, Chef virologist of the world-famous Charite remarked some days ago: that whatever you have on vaccine, should be used because at the end, all the vaccines help to cut down on the spread of the virus one or the other way.

And so there is only one conclusion:
competition, egos, politics or similar should be on the backbench – whatever tool is available should be made available to protect people from becoming severe ill and dying. Every prevented dead is a win! The chaos around the vaccine and the questions the story raises will not help to boost the confidence of people in South Africa for the vaccine. Looking at the social media response there is no indication that jumping the queue of politicians assists in changing minds. If we really want the buy-in of those opposing the vaccine one has to avoid any appearance of non-transparency or second guessing about motivations, reasons and decision-making. In this South Africa has still to catch up heavily.

Filed under: Medical and Research, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

The vaccine confusion

AstraZeneca vaccine stopped – so the headlines around the world when South Africa decided to re-think the use of the vaccine it bought for a higher price without checking the expiry date – and one could think this is a typical story – or another example of the incompetence of South Africa’s national government. That may be the case, but I guess, in this time and situation government bashing should not be first priority but to look a bit deeper into this headline creating event.

The first batch of vaccines in South Africa was designated to be used for the health worker at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic; and obviously the aim is to protect those doctors, nurses and health workers against the virus. It was known that the AstraZeneca vaccine was not a 100% protection, but a small and not peer-to-peer reviewed study, which in itself poses more questions than answers was cited as the reason to stop the vaccination drive before it started.
And here the first critical thought has to be mentioned:
This discussion is way above the heads of the general population. The South African government, in its drive to be as transparent as possible, decided to bring into the public a level of medical research discourse which created more confusion than it helped to motivate people to make an informed decision on wanting to be vaccinated. It also laid bare the underlying belief of many, that a vaccine is either the miracle cure or not helping at all.
In reality, we are far from understanding the virus and the potential of vaccinations in this case. Questions about how long the vaccine will work, what possible boosters are needed, how mutations will change the course of strategy and whether vaccinated people can still be infected or pass on the virus are questions in transition of answers. Combinations of vaccines would be another question which warrants an answer.

The advent of highly expert driven expert discussions in the public and political domain is creating more havoc and uncertainty then intended by those allowing for it. And looking through publications and mini studies and opinion pieces one can’t stop thinking that some so-called or self-identified experts have their own popularity as priority number one on their agenda. Also here social media are at parts more a curse than a blessing, when it comes to relay information which are factual correct and done in a way which enlighten ordinary people.

The additional problem in South Africa is that even those, who vote for the governing party not necessarily trust anybody in government, knowing what they know via the Zondo Commission. Too much lies, too much deception, to many people in charge just looking for their own advantage and having their own hidden agendas.

As it stands at the moment, no decision is taken what happens to the amount of expensive vaccines waiting in the cold storerooms of South Africa. It would be a pity if they would be given back or expire- as they still prevent severe illness and death for those being vaccinated with them.

Generally speaking we have to learn to appreciate what medical advances can do – and to understand that all are building blocks to prevent the pandemic from raging on – none is currently the golden bullet which stops the virus in the track. And there is something else to learn: that health experts should only cover parts of the political decision-making process in pandemic times for complex societies. There is more to balance and if one part is dominant, it will derail the process of taking with them the people governed.

Filed under: Africa, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

The vaccine greed

The human race, encountering an enemy small but quite powerful, shows in our days that despite all advances in organising itself in various forms and shapes and with the help of modern technology it fails to act with integrity and common sense.

While it is amazing how fast global research and cooperation has brought powerful weapons in the form of vaccines to the forefront, distribution shows that humans are the worst enemy of humans.
We all know and currently experience that lockdowns, border closings can slow down the onslaught of the virus, but it can’t stop it, and it certainly can’t stop mutations to occur which would make beating the pandemic more difficult because of the changes the virus undergoes.

Common sense would dictate to stop the mutated virus in the track and to avoid the dissemination of a more difficult to beat virus mutant, in our current case the mutations which occur in Great Britain, South Africa and most probably Brazil. Vaccinations in these countries to get rid of dangerous mutations should be the first price while also starting the vaccination drive in all other countries. It would benefit the human race in its entirety.

What we see instead is the run of rich countries to get the hands of as many vaccines as possible, determined to only look for themselves first and then the rest of the world. Looking at the global village and acting as one human race against the virus is not on the agenda – the gaps between rich and poor are widened and the failure to act towards the common good of humanity are thrown out of the window.

We also see the greed for profit determining sales and contracts and countries and companies are not ashamed to close deals which will prolong the suffering of others. Vaccines against HPV and medications against HIV are already written into the history of prolonged and unnecessary suffering born out of profit and greed.

Human mankind prides itself with the ability to think and reflect, to act ethically and after considerations of consequences. That is our advantage looking at all other creatures around us. We already in the process of failing this advantage in the questions of climate change and environment. Organised religion which should be guardians of such ethics and moral considerations are in current times either mostly busy with themselves or slipped into battlefields of ideologies or politics.

Covid-19 has laid bare the fault lines of societies – we should make sure that the way out of the pandemic tells a positive story of humanity standing up to the challenge in a reflective, decent and meaningful way having the global village and all its citizens in sight.

Filed under: Africa, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , ,

Fatigue and the lack of the art to think long-term

I guess nobody wants to be in the shoes of those in political office when it comes to Covid-19. Even when the theoretical threat of a pandemic was known to academics and politicians alike, Corona visited without real warning – and the Chinese system to hide unpleasant truth did not help in being prepared. Italy paid the heaviest price at the beginning of the pandemic arriving in Europe, but meanwhile many more countries experience what it means if the implicitness of daily life is pulled away from societies.

Of course in the times of social media, we have millions of people who know it better – and whatever politicians say or do, it is wrong for quite a portion of society and pepped up by fake news, ideology and outright concious lying we have arrived in split societies all over the world: those who rebel against any sort of restrictions or even questioning the pure existence of the virus and others on the other margin of society who can’t live without their daily dose of sanitizers on everything which theoretically could bring danger into their homes.

There are also massive failures to be noticed; in my country of residence I could mention :
the ordering of vaccines by the South African government and its non-existing transparency in this regard is an example for failure to live up to the duty of those in charge; there are also noticeable behaviour patterns, which warrant criticism like the visible sheer lust for authoritarian rule as presented by some ministers and the inability of thinking with logic and consistency or deliver the needed services at all.

Globally we see fatigue when it comes to rules regarding restrictions – and the willingness to adhere to seemingly every day changing rules is clearly going down. Generally besides all complexity there is one notion which seems to be present in all countries and societies:
The lack of the art to think long-term.

It does not matter where you look, the four or five years election circles in most democracies have changed the mindset of those in charge – instead of long-term vision there are only short-term thinking having the next voting day in mind – even in non-democratic countries like China there is the tendency visible to act and react rather with short-term vision pacifying people on a certain level. Gone are the days when leaders had real visions bigger than life and certainly their political life-span. Contributing to this short circuit thinking is certainly also the instant “feedback” via social media; the phrase “shitstorm” has entered the realms of communication and decision-making, and it is often not to the benefit of society.

Looking at my country of birth Germany – the currently constant onslaught in headlines promising more lockdown, harder lockdown, longer lockdown as a permanent feature is contrarily to fostering compliance and adherence to rules. The very core of being human: closeness, touch and social interactions are on the list of forbidden fruits in pandemic times – and only measured action and perspective given in positive language will bring people to endure hardship in this regard on the long run. Pushing, threatening, confusing through changing messages will spill back – making up and pretending are the enemies of compliance and peaceful adherence.

A clear indication of the state of mind is the non-celebratory reaction of the advent of available vaccines: instead of celebrating science rightfully for working hard and in short time to bring a solution to the table, in most countries the mourning and questioning of facts and advances is mind-boggling. And it should give cause to serious reflection.

Filed under: General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

You reap what you sow

You reap what you sow – this saying also applies to the “greatest democracy in the world” as it is often labelled. The obvious pictures of a sitting president encouraging violence while the official representation on Capitol Hill is starting the process of certifying the normally peaceful transition of power after elections and the aftermath of storming the halls of democracy and interrupting the process shocked the world and many lawmakers in the USA – except people like Senator Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley who continue to disrupt the process by means of objections. While this is legit, the concern here remains that all those objections are based on lies and fake news; those objecting knowingly and willingly hurting and damaging the process of democracy and are enablers for a president who brought to light one of the ugliest face representing democratic USA. Four years of destruction of democratic rules and traditions came to conclusion – or to a point of no return for the time to come. The USA is split in its midst – the consequences could determine the years to come.

Using the cover of democratic rules and the freedoms associated to hurt the core of democracy and to transform it to a hollow shell or cosmetic whitewash is not unique to the USA; worldwide there is a tendency to empty the shrines of democracy for power and rule with impunity. The Philippines, Hungary, Poland, Russia are only some examples of a growing number of states trying to erode democracy and with it human rights and human dignity. Add to this the Covid-19 pandemic, which is a perfect reason to introduce measures diametral to democracy or parliamentarian democracy; the danger of which is seen in South Africa with the National Covid-19 Command Council and the seemingly endless extension of the state of disaster which gives ministers predispositioned to authoritarian habits enough space to indulge in their favourite sports.

Unfortunately democratic rules are not a guarantee that always the noble people are standing for election and the Covid-19 pandemic has shown almost worldwide, that human mankind is very much susceptible to crazy theories and fake news as well as a black/white world view. It seems that there is a collective tiredness to go for freedom, which includes the responsibility to weigh choices every day. It is easier to be told what to do and not to do; it is easier to submit to an order and run with the crowd, it is easier to look away when those, who are “not me” falling prey to unjust actions or coming short.

Democracy, freedom and the rule of law are virtues to be guarded every day – it has a reason why the US American Constitution determines the day and even the hour when the sacred duty of certifying the results on national level has to be executed. Ceremonies in this sense are not old-fashioned, but a reminder how fragile the achieved way of governance, how fragile societies and self-determination as a people are.

May the pictures we saw yesterday on TV streaming from the USA be a reminder how quick certainties can vanish – add this to the Covid-19 pandemic and even the most laziest thinker should start to realise the wake-up call of our times for humanity, dignity and human rights, but also the well-being of the human race as such. Honesty, truth and other agreed shared values must be back as fundaments for the way forward.

Filed under: General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , ,

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