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LET US ALL PULL TOGETHER

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This is no time for settling scores but to stand together united to fight this virus that has landed on our soil.

For a moment, we need to put our petty fights with the Government of Eswatini aside and focus on keeping people alive and safe from the coronavirus (CONVID-19). This is a serious pandemic that should not be taken lightly especially given that our health system in Eswatini is in a state of disrepair. A majority of our population lives in abject poverty while we all now have to look to the public health system to keep the virus under control in order to keep emaSwati alive. Unfortunately, this is an imported virus that knows no boundaries and will kill even those who have never hopped on a plane to cross the oceans or owned a passport to even visit our next door neighbour, South Africa. The reality we face right now is that the country is extremely vulnerable and so we need to be proactive in preventing the virus from spreading any further.

Health

What can Eswatini do? Firstly, let this current health situation be a lesson to government that the world we live in is increasingly becoming unpredictable, which means the country needs to accelerate development so that it is in a better position to prepare for and mitigate all kinds of local and global shocks. It should not take life and death situations for government to wake up and realise that the country should never ever gamble with its public health system among other critical public services. For a long time, emaSwati have been pleading with government to rescue public hospitals and to stop allocating billions of Emalangeni of virtual money to the health sector that never gets to the hands of the administrators. As it is, this sector owes well over half a billion Emalangeni to its suppliers, yet it is consistently allocated above E3 billion each year out of the national budget. Misplaced priorities and unpaid bills always have a way of catching up with us and unfortunately, the price to pay this time around will be the lives of emaSwati.

Invest

The point is, if the country could invest in the right social and economic development programmes, these pandemics and global economic shocks would not send Eswatini into a panic frenzy because the economy and people’s standard of living would be in good shape to absorb or shake off the disturbance to the system. Going forward, the country should invest in people instead of throwing money in five-star hotels and redirecting development budgets to unnecessary shopping sprees that put the economy in jeopardy. The money spent on that monstrosity down the valley could have paid all the government suppliers by now, could have taken care of the cost-of-living adjustment for our darling civil servants, and the country would indeed be a step ahead to deal with the unexpected. Secondly, it is imperative for government to take notice of what is going on around us and in particularly what is happening in South Africa to put the right structures/measures in place to limit and eventually stop the spread of CONVID-19.  We need to a lockdown in Eswatini and we need to synchronise it with South Africa to reap the greatest impact on saving lives and stopping the spread of the virus.

Sacrifice

The country can sacrifice a month or so now to save the economy from total shutdown in the several months to come when the virus spreads out of control. We are too small a population to survive a pandemic of this proportion. To make things worse, a bulk of our population has underlying illnesses such as HIV, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, just to name a few. The odds are all stacked up against Eswatini, which is why government should follow suit and put the country in lockdown. At the same time, the minister for Health – who has so far been doing a great job in keeping the nation informed about the virus – needs to accelerate the plans for setting up a local laboratory to test for CONVID-19 so that the country can respond in real time.

This is the time for government to take hard decisions and to make sacrifices for the greater good of emaSwati’s lives and the economy as a whole. Without the people, there is no economy, so let’s be clear about which priority comes first. We can always rebuild the economy and put easements in place to reduce the impact of the shutdown; however, once a life is lost, it is gone forever. While the minister for Finance puts measures in place to prevent the collapse of the economy, the Ministry of Health should also be a key priority in sorting out the public health system.

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