The world is in chaos and no one seems to know anything anymore, especially regarding the scariest crow of them all; COVID-19.
In between conspiracy theorists, people whom confusion has gotten the best of, and those who just don't trust the government, it seems like a lot of theories have formulated in the wake of this pandemic. "COVID-19 in Sudan is a conspiracy," says some unidentifiable account on Twitter, but the sentiment is not infrequent. The majority of the population fluctuates between deniers and those who just don't care.
Tweet: “This is a conspiracy and biological warfare. It does exist but as a weapon. For us in Sudan, however, it’s a huge conspiracy for them [the government] to try to solve the crises but they failed and were exposed. [#] the existence of corona in Sudan is a conspiracy”
INTERNEWS RUMOR BULLETIN #4 DECEMBER 2020 FOR HUMANITARIANS
And then a report comes along, with its complicated technical terms and heavy English, that predicts nearly 38% of Khartoum's population is or has been infected and that over 16,000 COVID-19 patients had died as of 20 November! We all know that reports and research aren't very likely to go viral and this was no different, but the medical community and the science enthusiasts were alarmed, to put it nicely. The numbers were just a projection but they still had an impact, considering that to the day of writing this article, the total number of detected cases did not exceed 22,000... the discrepancy here was mind-boggling.
Characterizing COVID-19 epidemic dynamics and mortality under-ascertainment in Khartoum, Sudan - Source: Imperial College London
For us to be able to make sense of this, we need to view the whole situation of COVID-19 in Sudan from its most critical joint; the testing labs, and the Ministry of Health. We reached out to individuals in these labs and the Ministry of health to help us paint a clearer image. And while we discussed the matter of discrepancy, we managed to get a better grasp of this topic.
“First off, I’d like to clarify that there is no conspiracy. The Ministry of Health is not decreasing the numbers in their reports [or inflating them]... it all comes down to the lack of sufficient usable data” says Dr. Omar Mahjoub - a volunteer in the National Public Health Lab (NPHL/Stack). He added “one of the main issues and perhaps the most important one when it comes to reporting the detected cases in Sudan, is that there is no robust system of testing, contact tracing, and random screening. The majority of those that get tested are travelers and that is insufficient data for understanding the severity of the case and the transmission. Those who get tested for reasons other than travel are either symptomatic or in need of hospitalization.”
This means that we only test those who need the test and will most likely pay for it. Why you might ask? Well, due to the lack of funds, of course. “The PCR test is expensive” adds Dr. Omar “and the - free testing for all - that had been going on for a while until recently had taken a toll on the lab and perhaps the Ministry as a whole. We’ve long run out of donated kits.”
Dr. Suhaiba, a health officer at the Ministry of Health, also notes that a lot of the cases, even symptomatic ones, seem to prefer not to get tested and just resort to self-isolating - if that. A lot of people, she says, would relay having had symptoms that they just took in stride and waited off at home..
Tweet: “I read the study last night, 16 thousand COVID-19 deaths! What’s even scarier than the numbers in the paper, is the denial that the majority of the population is living in. Anyone I talk to in Sudan claims that there’s nothing and that they’re living normally.”
15th December 2020 - https://www.coronafacts.africa/
One might assume that people just couldn’t be bothered. The truth is that before it entered, back when we could have prepared the community for it much better, the Minister of Health and the government in general, addressed this concern nonchalantly. The tone they’d adopted back then, the bravado, it was all very dismissive of the real threat the virus posed and continues to pose. It’s important that we recognize where this nonchalance originated. This is a country that has minimal active health promotion initiatives and basic health education is still something most of the population knows so little about. “A lot of people would love to hear that COVID-19 is small and defeatable” says Dr. Omar and it’s undoubtedly true. It’d be so much easier to just deny it altogether.
Sudan’s health system is already under extreme stress and the pandemic has further worsened the situation. Over 50 percent of Sudanese physicians work abroad, by and large driven away by low salaries, poor work environments, and a lack of adequate professional development. Add to that the economic crisis that the nation’s going through making it even harder for patients to seek medical help.
It seems like there’s nothing we can do at this point, but Dr. Omar disagrees. “We can learn from this. I might be too optimistic but I don’t want to get on public transport and find only a handful wearing masks… I want everyone on the bus wearing a mask. And we’re seeing it more and more every day now.” Although we seemingly have no control over the virus, we can help lower the transmission. Mask-wearing, social distancing, and handwashing are the only ways we know of for fighting this virus, all of which can be implemented by almost everyone. So report or not, we should just do our part.
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