Raissa Malu

Post-COVID-19 in the DRC

What lessons can already be drawn for the DRC from the responses to the COVID-19 crisis?

I am undoubtedly embarking on a perilous exercise, that of drawing the first lessons from the management of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). As if I had a broad enough vision of the situation to be able to imagine what will happen afterwards.

Far from it! I only give you here the (very) narrow view I have from where I stay.

Data platforms

In the DRC, the first case of COVID-19 was reported 10th March 2020. It involved a patient returning from a stay in France in the now infamous 8th March 2020 flight.

To date, the evolution of cases, deaths and healed persons is well documented on several platforms including COVID-19 DRC Time series Data which offers a mathematical analysis of DRC data for scientists and specialists.

Putting these different platforms online was the first positive effect of the pandemic in the DRC. Young (and not so young) people have mobilized and federated to develop platforms to help identify and record cases locally. A good example is the COVID-19 Info platform which was initiated and developed by young structures, ITOT Africa and Devscast, and then adopted by the Government via the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and New Technologies (PT-NTIC).

ICT skills

First lesson: we have in the DRC real skills in ICT, young people, who, without complex, are able to mobilize and federate for a common goal. The Government has just discovered that it can trust them. And all these platforms have been "naturally" translated into national languages to popularize technical and scientific concepts, while the teaching of science and mathematics in national languages at all levels is struggling to find followers!

Hand washing stations and ventilators

After the platforms, the second craze was on the technical side with the production of automatic hand washers, mechanical respirators and other devices. I'm not going to go back to respirators. I refer you to my previous post.

The fervour for automatic hand washing stations has been of the same kind. On social networks, we continually receive videos (often the same ones) from (very) young people in cities and villages who have set up hand washing systems, sometimes manual, sometimes (semi-)automatic, to facilitate hand washing by reducing the risk of contamination by surface contact.

Maboko peto

Professional structures such as the National Institute for Professional Preparation (INPP) have also proposed their system. The latter's solar device called Maboko peto (clean hands, in English) includes automatic temperature taking.

Individual and collective intelligences

Second lesson: individual and collective intelligences are easily mobilized when an opportunity arises. And investors and donors, who are generally cautious in the DRC, are more inclined to contribute in this context.

This situation makes us dream of the semi-industrialization of the DRC. But there is still a need to integrate some concepts such as specialisation and chain work, and to stimulate the collaborative economy. The success of mechanical respirator projects, for example, depends on this.

Education crisis

As stated on the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) website, "COVID-19 is not just a health emergency, it is also the cause of an education crisis". Managing the education crisis is our third lesson.

The Congolese education system was not prepared for the management of this crisis, neither cognitively nor materially. Yet the DRC is an unstable country that has been in crisis for decades. What have we not experienced? Looting, white years, wars, Ebola, I could go on and on. Despite this, we were unprepared.

Denial at first

The first reaction from the education ranks was denial: "Calm down, schools will soon reopen and things will get back to normal". The math was this. The closure of schools was decreed by the President of the Republic on 19th March 2020, two weeks before the Easter holidays. Recuperating two weeks of classes at the end of the school year still seemed manageable for those involved in education. The extension of the closure of schools after the Easter holidays caused panic.

Resistance to change

The system responded. At the level of Primary, Secondary and Technical Education (EPST), an education response plan to the Covid-19 pandemic was developed. This plan includes the production of workbooks and distance education using television, radio and the Internet to enable students to continue learning at home. For its implementation, the DRC's technical and financial partners active in education (UNICEF, World Bank, SMEs, etc.) are mobilized.

Nevertheless, solutions to enable other forms of learning are (barely) tolerated. The actors in the Congolese education system still hold strongly to the classic pattern: "nothing can validly replace learning at school in front of a blackboard with a teacher made of flesh and blood".

Reversing the perspective

The main reason given is the situation of our schools and our populations. As access to electricity, equipment (books, television, radio, telephone, tablet and/or computer) and the Internet is not guaranteed for all, the classical scheme remains the best and only solution.

This is forgetting that it is not a question of technology. We do not choose to implement new forms of learning because we do not have access to technology. It is because we do not think or accept other forms of learning that we cannot possibly implement the technologies that make them possible!

Fake News and e-health

The fourth lesson is about what has been missing so far. The first example is the issue of Fake News. No coordinated local action identified as such has been devised to combat Fake News and misinformation. Yet we are all victims of this.

Second example, E-Health. I was expecting the rapid development of local applications to help hospitals, healthcare staff and the response to identify cases, manage flows and dispatch patients, manage bed availability, manage the status of available ventilators, monitor and care for patients remotely, obtain vital statistics in real time, etc. There may be attempts, but they are not to be completed or they do not advertise them.

Absent research

A third example is the involvement of scientific research. Congolese scientific research is probably (and unfortunately) the most inaudible during this crisis.

The Minister of Scientific Research and Technological Innovation nevertheless mobilized by setting up a Scientific Commission to support the Technical Secretariat of the Multisectoral Committee for the Response (CMR) to the COVID-19 pandemic. This commission, made up of Congolese professors and scientists from various research centers, as well as independent researchers, has been working on alternative methods to support patient care.

Preparing for future crises

However, the (often) mentioned problem is the lack of means. Without dismissing this argument out of hand, we must ask ourselves, as in the case of education, whether the problem is not wrongly set.

It may seem presumptuous to think about the post-COVID-19 period when we may be, in the DRC, only at the beginning of the crisis. Perhaps the worst is yet to come. If that is the case, then these initial lessons are valuable in preparing us to deal with the shocks to come.

We are together!

#StopCoronavirus

This post has first been published on LinkedIn. It has been translated in English by Afriscitech.

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