A Tale of Two Countries, Two Leaders, and One Virus.
Coronavirus, Covid-19, pandemic, global health, public health, social distancing, isolation, self-quarantine, case zero; no longer words just heard in the hallways of elite institutions. Today these words are part of the everyday lexicon of people globally. Words echoed in cruise ships and sports stadiums, developing countries and developed countries, grocery stores and classrooms, informal settlements, and formal settlements.
Simply put, we are living in a time of a pandemic, a historical event redefining global health and health systems, technology and travel, social spaces and stock markets, and everything beyond. A time in history in which the power of words in an unfortunate twist of events has united foes and friends across color, creed, and social status.
I, for one, a global health professional trained in infectious disease and a humanitarian worker used to emergency response pay very close attention to the science around disease outbreak, disease prevention, and the choice of words used by leadership. Since I know from first-hand experience, these are critical variables in turning the tide of any emergency response.
I have heard conversations around Covid-19 layered with facts and fiction, but none like those of two world leaders. Two world leaders of my two home countries. On January 23rd, when the USA, a country that has made me who I am today, reported its first case of Covid-19, I keenly watched news channels, followed CDC statistics, read newsletters, spoke with my colleagues and friends on the ground. Frantically trying to making sense of the leadership response to the pandemic. Some of what I heard from President Donald Trump is;
‘A vaccine would be available “very quickly” and “very rapidly we’re very close to a vaccine”.
“Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.”
“We’re talking about a much smaller range of deaths than from the flu.”
“The virus is under tremendous control.”
Words by a President while the outbreak is accelerating across the USA. Words by a President while health officials are scrambling to handle the affected. Words by a President, while scientists are warning a vaccine for mass use, is at the minimum a year away. Words by a President, while statistics point towards approximately 3,244, confirmed cases and 61 coronavirus-related deaths across 49 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
Fast forward to March 12th, this time a different country reporting its first case of Covid-19 — Kenya, a country I owe my roots to. Here my thoughts shift to the dire consequences of the possible outcomes of Covid-19 spreading in a developing nation setting. I cannot stop thinking of what will happen with our communities living in slums, refugee camps, our uninsured, our elderly, our far to reach communities, our malnourished, our immune-compromised and the list goes on and on. Amidst this, once again, I find myself frantically trying to make sense of the leadership response to the pandemic. Some of what I have heard from President Uhuru Kenyatta is;
“Avoid misinformation that causes panic and anxiety.”
“Some measures taken today may cause inconveniences but they are designed to ensure we contain the spread of the virus.”
“ Urge cashless transactions to prevent the risk of transmission through physical handling of money” (a good move if we have learned from the 2014 Ebola outbreak).
“Practices of hoarding goods and price gouging will not be tolerated.”
Words by a President while trading activity at the Nairobi Securities Exchange, the benchmark index for Kenya plummeted by more than 5 percent. Words by a President while approximately seven cases of Covid-19 confirmed in Nairobi. Words by a President while the Corona outbreak is unfolding.
Words that tell me President Trump is hell-bent on mitigating political damage of the pandemic and pedaling miss information. At the same time, President Kenyatta is hell-bent on indicating this as a public health emergency. In particular, a developing nation is showing real leadership in scientific citizenship, confronting myths, and making timely, high-stakes decisions.
In summary, President Trump, Kenya is providing you a fundamental lesson on what leadership looks like in the face of a pandemic, a defining moment in humanity, and demonstrating issues that you have dismissed as globalist intrusion will benefit American citizens too.
Oh, and President Trump, one more thing, please note that viruses are not nationalistic in response to your comment,
“ This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.”
In fact, for your records, the Spanish flu, one of the most significant pandemics of modern time that killed your grandfather Frederick Trump did not originate in Spain. It could have likely originated in Kansas, United States.