Scoring own goals

Scoring own goals

LAST week Lesotho’s media was awash with reports of the launch of the vaccination programme. They said their Majesties received the inaugural AstraZeneca vaccine.
The inoculation of the first family was symbolic and must be applauded.

The King led the way for the people in this important inoculation process. It served to convince Basotho that the vaccine is safe.
Apart from frontline healthcare workers, the list of those inoculated included lawmakers and senior security cluster personnel.
That, to me, indicated that we were going down the familiar path of allowing political considerations to contaminate or sabotage noble initiatives.

The lawmakers are not people on the frontline in the war to combat Covid-19 pandemic spread. Whether deliberate or not, spilling the vaccine’s administration to dignitaries compromised a national intervention process against this deadly pandemic. It created an unnecessary controversy on a scientific intervention. It politicised the pandemic intervention strategy.
Do MPs, and other public servants who already work in isolation and are not in constant contact with the general public, need early inoculation when the virtually live in cocoons.

In my view, this was opportunistic and self-serving, while vulnerable people who truly need it could only watch. Politician politicised a life-saving intervention for selfish gain. The privileged ‘us’ who have political power and can afford private world-class healthcare continue to reap benefits they do not deserve at the expense of Basotho.
Lesotho politicians continue to play a comedy of fatal own goals. In 2016, the then Minister of Education and Training shut down of Lesotho School of Medicine (LSoM), denying Basotho from benefitting from their knowledge.

Chickens have come home to roost. The misdemeanours continue to haunt their conscience. Surely, this was the mother of all own goals. They denied the country primary healthcare knowledge in the local context. Now Lesotho relies on foreign medical knowledge, resources and financial aid.
This article seeks to understand the dynamics of highly contagious, deadly viral pandemics. I contrast the genesis of the HIV and Covid-19 pandemics alongside the intervention strategies. I confront the conflict and contradictions created by the interface between Basotho medical needs and politics in Lesotho.

The emergences of variants of coronavirus are typical examples of the need for knowledge learnt in context. The existing vaccines with proven efficacies on one strand of Covid-19 prove less effective on another. This awkward predicament forced South Africa to abandon a full consignment of the vaccine. The number of new infections and deaths continues to rise.

A former minister and a current MP twitted that our neighbours, South Africa, rejected the AstraZeneca vaccine on scientific grounds. He compares the vaccine to a condom with a hole to condemn its reception and impending administration to the nation. Obviously, the MP is entitled to his opinion, especially if he is an expert in condoms. Practice makes perfect.
But it is telling that Lesotho acquired the AstraZeneca Vaccine through a donation by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Media reports say the US government has availed about M81 million to Lesotho’s Covid-19 pandemic response, focusing on testing, clinical care, surveillance and vaccine preparedness.

So, neither the MP nor Lesotho have the authority to make strategic calls on the vaccines. They cannot make such reckless pompous statements from the position of strength. They cannot generate knowledge, nor do they possess the know-how. Lesotho defied the Basotho proverb: ‘Mphe-mphe ea lapisa, (molekane) motho o khonoa ke sa ntlo ea hae.’ They turned Lesotho into a pauper state. Beggars cannot be choosers. Lesotho begs for resources, finances and knowledge.

I must make a disclaimer. I am not a sociologist or anthropologist. Nor am I a theologian. I am a science and mathematics teacher by training and spend all my working life in education. Thus, I do not have a grand theory to explain the phenomenon of scoring ‘own goals’ by our political leaders.
My former principal and mentor presented me with a possible explanation for our political leaders’ propensity to score ‘own-goals’. She sent me a gospel teaching of the day. The teaching used the Gospel of St Mark 12; 20 – 34 to introduce the paradigm of true love.

The secret also in our national anthem, whose last line of the first verse reads: ‘Rea le rata’ (‘We love her.’) The key is the word ‘love’.
This article is not intended to privilege one religion, Christianity, over others. The virtue ‘love’ transcends all religions, cultures, nations and personalities.
The homily urges people to love their neighbour as they love themselves. First, love yourself and then transfer this love to your neighbour. In other words, one cannot love their neighbour before loving themselves.

The person who loves obeys the laws. If you hate yourself, you cannot appreciate your neighbour. Basotho must extend their love to Lesotho and their countrymen and women. Your heart is where your treasure is. They must appreciate the otherness in others and embrace their difference. They must see the good in the other. They must be accommodating to all, to sacrifice the little that we have. Love gives without expecting a reward. Love is practised and lived. If you love others, you will not do unto them what you would not do unto yourself.

The verse I quoted asserts that Basotho love Lesotho. They are patriotic. It introduces the virtue, patriotism. Basotho must convert their self-love into love for Lesotho. I found an Italian Viroli’s essay about a 15th-century Italian philosopher, Doria, helpful in my endeavours to understand nationhood and patriotism. It enables one to extend self-love to nationhood and patriotism. Doria sees patriotism as a devotion to ones’ country and a particular life. In our case, the devotion is to Basotho culture, customs, values and ways of life. Patriotism is not a huge ask because people crave to belong to a great country.

Oh yes, our leaders have a role in patriotism. People esteem their leaders. Citizens do not serve leaders they despise. They do not love them. A good leader must impress their followers with outstanding virtue and prevent them from admiring vice. Such vices include nationalism, patronage, sycophancy and demagogy. Nationalism manifests in phenomena like xenophobia, the supremacy of one race over others or people who believe in the ultimate authority over others or many such vices. Nationalism yielded a world war. Good leaders must have antidotes for these vices. The best antidote is the truth. By nature, people love virtue and goodness. This analogy is simple yet so sophisticated. It befits the expression ‘sophistication in simplicity.’

Doria relates patriotism to governance and politics. Patriotism encompasses the ideals of liberty and good governance. Good governance strengthens and solidifies the loyalty of citizenry to the state. The role of a politician is thus to shape and sustain the patriotism of their followers. Patriotism is grounded on the awareness that people’s happiness rests upon the security of their country.

The Covid-19 pandemic is neither the only one nor the first to wreck Lesotho in our time. Lesotho and Basotho’s greatest danger continues to be HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis (TB) and diseases such as STD that use the same medium as the HI virus. These diseases ravage the youth. HIV/AIDS has been in Sub-Saharan Africa since the 1980s. TB, an opportunistic disease that was about being wiped out, returned.

History tells us that the first patient with HIV/AIDS was identified in the US in 1981. Scholars established the causal relationship between HIV and AIDS in 1984. By then, it had spread out. At this time, people believed that the disease only caught certain groups. These were haemophiliacs, homosexuals and Haitians.

The National Academy of Sciences on Sub-Saharan countries reports that a different disease spread pattern emerged beyond the US’s shores. The region hit hardest by this disease is Sub-Saharan Africa which is culturally and socially heterosexual. Eighty per cent (80%) of transmissions are happening between heterosexual partners. Most infected people in this region are young, sexually active adults of both genders. This contradicts the US and developed countries’ experiences about the disease.

The National Academy of Sciences concluded that they could not generalise about HIV/AIDS. No single biological or social factor determine the spread of HIV/AIDs. Trying to explain single causal factors in isolation is too simplistic and may not help to understand how the disease spreads out.
However, Lesotho’s population is predominantly young. Most of their behavioural factors are associated with HIV transmission. The life expectancy in the African states dropped. For example, life expectancy in Lesotho is 52.9 in 2018 from 58.6 years in 1990.

In line with the UN General Assembly’s commitments, Lesotho has embarked on an accelerated programme to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support. These guidelines focused on HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. Also, the Ministry addressed specific issues regarding adults, adolescents, pregnant women, and children.

In 2014, the Ministry of Health reported that Lesotho, at 23%, has the second-highest adult HIV prevalence in the world. There were an estimated 62 new HIV infections and about 50 deaths due to AIDS each day. An estimated 380,000 people are living with HIV in Lesotho. The prevalence rate now stands at 25.8%.

HIV in Lesotho is discriminatory by gender. HIV prevalence among females aged 15-24 was 14.9% compared to 5.9%among males of the same age. Most girls in this range slept with men 10 years or more their senior. The National Academy report that the developed nations reached the donor fatigue stage. Traditional healthcare education did not suffice and failed. Moreover, developed nations realise that the HIV/AIDS pandemic does not affect them the way they anticipated.

An American doctor, Murrell, reports that the first antiretroviral emerged in 1997. This was a combined drug therapy whose function was to control the disease and not cure it. Thus, the virus’s isolation and the first scientific treatment with an antiretroviral 16 years.
In South Africa, the ANC exorcised President Mbeki because of his views about HIV/AIDS. Mbeki challenged intellectual interrogation of the causal relationship between HIV and AIDS and differential epidemiology of the diseases in North America and Western Europe compared to Sub-Saharan Africa.

The HI virus treatment took so long to produce compared to the period scientists took for Covid 19 vaccines from Day-zero back in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, to the administration of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine in Europe and North America. Lesotho administered the first AstraZeneca vaccine to His Majesty on 10 March 2021.
Fast-forward to the present-day predicament and ensuing developments. The present Covid 19 pandemic continues to highlight the need for a public healthcare institution that would create knowledge in the context of Basotho. As the world continues to search for vaccine solutions for this pandemic, new, seemingly localised mutant variants emerge.

There is another dimension to this already chaotic mix. On one hand, HIV/AIDS is predominant in youngsters in Lesotho and the rest of the Sub-Sahara. These are sexually active people. Lesotho’s life expectancy is 52.9 years. On the other hand, Covid kills mainly people who are 65 years and above. On 14 March 2021, there are 10,528 confirmed Covid 19 cases and 309 deaths. Only 6 percent of the population of Lesotho are over 60. There are too few older people for Covid 19 to kill. Orphaned children head households.

The irony here is that the US had 30 051 650 confirmed Covid 19 cases and 546 704 death on 14 March 2021. Life expectancies in the US and Italy in 2018 were 78.54 and 83.28 years, respectively. Western countries have higher life expectancies.
Lesotho political leaders have a propensity to score their own goals. Many of these own goals are comical but fatal. People lose their lives. A good example is the shutdown of LSoM which deprived Lesotho of world-class healthcare knowledge production and practice. This forced Lesotho to remain a consumer state. A pauper state.

The present Covid 19 pandemic puts the microscope on the necessity for countries like Lesotho to self-introspect and develop to become truly independent. The swiftness in which the western country manufactured the Covid 19 vaccine and made it ready for administration is a tell-tale. The statistics in this article tell a story of why Covid 19 vaccination production was and continues to be a top priority in these nations. It merits success.

While HIV/AIDS treatment, the antiretroviral treatments in their different forms, lagging so far behind. HIV/AIDS is not their priority. The priorities of the developed world are different from those of Sub-Saharan Africa. They shall solve the problems of Basotho and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The article used constructs love and patriotism to understand Lesotho’s political plight. Many political decisions are not in the interest of the nation. The losers and victims are the electorate, the people who voted the politicians into political power. If politician put Lesotho first, as they demanded the electorate, Lesotho would realise her potential and prosper for Basotho.

In conclusion, Lesotho and other developing countries reject consumerism and dependence. Basotho must learn to stand on their own by producing their knowledge, skills and products. Nobody can beat Lesotho at her own product.
Politicians must love their neighbour as they love themselves. They must then transfer this love into the love of their country for Lesotho to become the land of plenty for all.

Dr Tholang Maqutu

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