By Stephen Charles Olet
Many countries around the globe have implemented lockdowns in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak as a way to gain victory against the invisible enemy which caught most governments and individuals ill-prepared for the consequences of the outbreak.
Within Uganda, many citizens and people implementing the lockdown are very hopeful that after the lockdown period, things will return to normal and people will go about with business as usual.
From my expert point of view, irrespective of the tight preventive and control measures put in place by the concerned authorities and individuals, the virus might live with us longer than expected. We may have to learn to adapt our life styles to live with the virus amidst us because a time will come when it will be practically impossible to extend the lockdown.
On June 5th 1981, the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) of the USA reported a cluster of cases of pneumocystis pneumonia, a very rare condition, in five gay men in Los Angeles. This was the discovery of a new disease that would be called AIDS. The following year, The New York Times published an alarming article about the new immune system disorder, which, by that time, had affected 335 people, killing 136 of them.
The discovery of HIV/AIDs instilled a lot of fear and panic among the masses the same way corona virus is doing now. What followed were periods of stigmatization and pointing of fingers at the infected patients. The public was hopeful that time would come that HIV would die a natural death, whereas other people were hopeful that scientists would probably get a vaccine.
Till today, no vaccine has been got to provide immunity against HIV but people have adopted to living harmoniously with HIV infected-people. In the case of Corona virus it will be easier for the scientists to come up with a vaccine since Coronavirus is more stable genetically unlike HIV which mutates very frequently to take a new shape, making it hard to be attacked by a pharmacological agent.
Ideally, if the coronavirus had similar characteristics with viruses such as small pox, then patients who have recovered from COVID-19 are not supposed to get re-infected. But the panorama of people being re-infected with the virus is of global apprehension, as health experts from many countries are having hopes that populations which have been infected and cured will develop adequate immunity to prevent a revitalization of the pandemic.
The immunology of Coronavirus seems to be putting scientists in Dilemma as on Friday 10th April South Korea reported that 91 recovered coronavirus patients had tested positive for the disease again. The information has also provoked qualms that the virus may remain active in patients for much longer than was hitherto thought. This has raised eye brows on health workers’ understanding of the Contagion as countries that had opted to have their citizens to get infected as a way of gaining herd immunity may not achieve their goal.
In the same spirit, it’s hard to tell whether countries such as Uganda that have chosen to prevent their populations from getting infected by implementing a lockdown will achieve their goal since the big question remains that; up to when will the lock down be implemented? If the virus does not clear, will the lockdown be extended forever? Well, I am not against a lockdown because I personally believe that it is helpful but I am looking at the big picture and trying to draw some inferential conclusions.
Scientists have come have up with a null hypothesis that false test results could also be at fault, whereas other pundits are opining that fragments of the virus could still be in patients’ systems without being infectious or posing a risk of danger to the host or others. All these are still virgin and fertile grounds for further research by specialists in the various disciplines.
To wrap it up, whether the virus has come to stay or not, it still requires a collective responsibility and maximum discipline to keep the numbers of cases low because the ultimate punishment for indiscipline during this period is getting an infection of COVID-19 which can tantamount to death incase an individual has other comorbidities. Thanks be to God as our country has so far not registered any mortality. We must be grateful for that.
Author is a Ugandan Medical Epidemiologist