Nigeria: New Pandemic Tipping Point?

The B.1.617.2 variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus recently found in India has landed in Africa’s most populated country, raising concerns about a possible worsening of the rate of infections and deaths from covid-19 that could overtake its borders and spread the pandemic to new areas of that continent.

Context: Last week, Nigeria and Algeria notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of the detection of cases related to variant B.1.617.2 in their respective territories. So far, seven African countries have reported the presence of this variant, marked by an increased transmission capacity according to preliminary studies.

Outlook: With a little more than 200 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa, geographically bordering Cameroon, Niger, Chad, Benin and has a strategic exit to the Gulf of Guinea. Although it is an oil power, the influence of European colonialism and the presence of the terrorist group Boko Haram in the northeast of the country have significantly affected its economic and social development, with the health sector being one of the most critical weaknesses.

Data: A WHO briefing summary highlights that there are only 40,000 doctors in the country, making Nigeria one of the nations with the lowest health personnel-to-population ratio in the world. This problem extends to the healthcare system, where a weakened hospital infrastructure is apparently unprepared for a critical wave of the pandemic.

Similarities: The presence of European colonialism and the entry of the capitalist economy in Nigeria resulted in a strong demographic concentration of its population, which lives overcrowded in large cities with sanitation problems, a social and urban reality that is also palpable in countries of large territorial extension such as India. This common thread has raised concerns, as demographic concentration acts as a variable for the multiplication of contagion.

The key: So far, Nigeria has reported more than 160,000 infections and just over 2,000 deaths due to covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. However, the presence of the B.1.617.2 variant, the weak hospital infrastructure and the low vaccination rate expose the African country to a situation similar to that of India.

War: The presence of the terrorist group Boko Haram in the north of the country also poses a challenge for vaccination. Nigeria joined the COVAX mechanism when it was excluded from global supply chains, but delays in shipments have made it impossible to carry out a mass immunization plan. Fighting between Boko Haram and the Nigerian Army complicates access to densely populated areas, limiting drug delivery.

Why it matters: Nigeria-based African journalist Philip Obaji Jr. has noted that “If this new variant of the Indian coronavirus begins to spread like wildfire, Nigeria will be in serious trouble […] For many, if the looming crisis is added to the growing security problems facing Nigeria, the country could be headed for a catastrophe the world has never seen before. The situation in the African country is evidence of how the traces of colonialism, the penetration of terrorist groups and weak health infrastructure create conditions conducive to the deadly spread of the pandemic. Ultimately, the virus has different impacts depending on the country and its location within world capitalism. In the case of Nigeria, the weight of a history of colonial violence becomes an impetus that makes covid-19 that much more destructive.

Instituto Samuel Robinson

Translation by Internationalist 360°