The Sunday News
The novel Coronavirus has been surrounded by misconceptions, fears, myths and confusion and even the world’s best health care systems and health practitioners have grappled to arrest it. Several misconceptions have occupied the minds of many in Africa.
These misconceptions have been exacerbated by the fact that most recommendations by health experts are against African values and ways of life, says Makhubele, etal in the research study, Traditional beliefs and practices versus public health approach to Covid-19: Perspectives of social work academics in Zimbabwe.
The study established that public health approach to Covid-19 interferes with certain traditional African beliefs and practices amongst black African people. Examples are social distancing, steps taken in burial of Covid-19 victims, isolation of Covid-19 patients, among other things.
Furthermore, the study says social workers therefore have a role to play in creating awareness about the virus through the use of all platforms available to people, monitoring traditional events to ensure that people do not continue to be exposed to the virus, engaging traditional leaders and sensitise them on the dangers of not following Covid-19 regulations, among their community members.
A Kenya-based communications consultant, Stephen Ndegwa in the article “Religion and culture plague Africa’s fight against Covid-19”, says principles like social distancing are also an alien concept in African culture.
He says this is because Africans usually thrive in communal settings, particularly during various ceremonies. And many communities are yet to overcome the culture shock from the demands of maintaining “personal distance” and limiting the number of participants in social events to the bare minimum.
Nonetheless, we believe by now, communities in both rural and urban areas should have warmed up to the idea of the new normal under Covid-19. The new normal means that people are forced to accept a new way of doing things so as to survive the Covid-19 pandemic.
Health guidelines that include social distancing and repeatedly washing hands with alcohol based sanitisers or soap are all meant to ensure people survive the virus.
In addition, the Government of Zimbabwe, like others across the globe, has come up with further guidelines on how funerals have to be conducted. When public gatherings like weddings, parties and political rallies were banned, burials could not be banned because bodies cannot be kept forever. Our departed friends and relatives have to be laid to rest in a decent manner despite the pandemic.
However, people have been disregarding health and safety guidelines which have made funerals super spreaders of the virus. The media has been awash with the story of the deaths that took place at Sogwala, Lower Gweru in the Midlands province recently after relatives decided to go against health protocols and opened a coffin of a relative who had died of Covid-19. The family went on to wash the body, and other protocols were not followed leading to the spread of the virus which has killed several people who attended that particular funeral.
Reports indicate that more than five villagers have died of Covid-19 in a space of a week after attending a funeral service for a relative who had succumbed to the virus. According to the local leadership, several other villagers, most of them relatives who were at the burial ceremony last week, contracted the virus.
The local village head Mrs Siziwe Siyaphi who confirmed five deaths, said the afflicted Ngwenya family had a deceased relative whose body came from South Africa in a coffin sealed with plastic after he died from Covid-19.
“Instead of burying their loved one in line with Covid-19 control regulations, they opened the wrapped coffin and conducted body viewing,” said the village head.
Chief Sogwala lamented the level of complacency in the area and called on his subjects to adhere Covid-19 regulations.
“This is the situation we are faced with here in Lower Gweru. Covid-19 has wreaked havoc, killing people but I blame it on the complacency from our people. They should just adhere to Covid-19 regulations. We should also avoid unnecessary movements and continue to mask up. This is my appeal to my people and the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.
We reiterate that communities have to adhere to health and safety guidelines so as to survive this pandemic.
Everyone must play their role. These are certainly not “normal times”, we have to accept the “new normal” for us to live another day.