COMFORT MUSSA: “If Handwashing Was The Only Solution, Would Africa Beat COVID?”

COMFORT MUSSA: "If Handwashing Was The Only Solution, Would Africa Beat COVID?"

Comfort Mussa is an award-winning Cameroonian journalist, and founder of Sisterspeak237.

She’s been on the front-line in Cameroon fighting for social justice, women’s rights, and for the disabled persons. Comfort Mussa is supporting vulnerable people in Cameroon by facilitating the provision and distribution of hand sanitizers, face masks, and sending out words of encouragement.

She’s actively spearheading a project across the seven regions to ensure that Covid-19 response services are gender and disability inclusive.

Interview with Comfort Mussa:

It’s an honor to have you with us.

In the recent webinar organized by Commonwealth Foundation on Equality and Justice in Covid-19 Responses, issues were raised about how women and and disabled persons were greatly neglected. So what do you think is probably the major reason for the exclusion?

In the Covid-19 response, the exclusion experienced is not one that is peculiar to the pandemic alone. Even before the outbreak of the pandemic, there have always been limited access to public services in the continent. There have been limited inclusion for persons with disabilities and also in the case of women in certain spaces.

What Covid-19 did was to magnify this. It’s not like this exclusion wasn’t in existence before Covid-19; it has been a system but much more amplified in this period.

But do you think governments are taking the right measures in addressing the issue?

What I’ve noticed in Cameroon and from reports I read about other countries when Covid-19 hit the globe, was that the response from most governments was an amplification of what the current system looks like.

When we talk about hand washing as one of the measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, we neglected the fact that water supply is still a problem. For example, Yaounde and Douala are big cities in Cameroon yet you’ve neighborhoods that have gone over a year without running water.

There are places where taps have run dry for like two years, and this was before Covid-19. You’ve villages where access to water is a great challenge as people trek a long distance to fetch water. When we talk about hand washing as a measure to minimize the spread and to save lives, we fail to ask “where is the water”.

Access to steady water supply in public places and homes have been a challenge before the pandemic. The measure has been advocated by the government in good fate but how do we implement it considering our context.

I often ask “if hand washing was the only solution, will African countries beat Covid?” Seeing that in hospitals, schools, and airports taps run dry. So, again “if hand washing was the only solution, will African countries beat Covid?”

As we know, there are other guidelines put in place in response to Covid-19, as in social distancing. But what does this mean for people whose way of living doesn’t provide much room for social distancing in the case of crowded neighborhoods and homes.

Some of these people live hand-to-mouth, therefore on a daily basis they ought to go out to trade and make money to feed their families. But with the lockdown, they couldn’t cope. And they sort of reacted by violating the laid down rules. It was a question of survival. I would say our governments responded by imitating solutions that thrived in other contexts failing to adapt them to our unique situation.

Most importantly for me, it’s what the pandemic is teaching us about the basic requirement of life that should be in place. Because we’re speaking this morning at a time where most countries with Cameroon inclusive are facing the second wave of Covid-19. So far with science research, the second wave could turnout to be more deadly.

In the first wave, we saw how governments responded, and we evaluated discovering that it marginalized women and disabled persons. It wasn’t efficient in our context. It’s been a year since the first case was reported in March, but what have we learnt? At this point, the governments should be proposing feasible measures in line with our context.

Comfort Mussa awarded by the UK High Commissioner in Cameroon, Rowan James Laxton.

When I say if hand washing is all that’s needed, I’m asking about the social infrastructures that’s needed. I’m saying do we’ve what it takes to fight diseases like Covid-19.

Even if we’ve vaccines to cure everybody, will our hospitals contain the number? Also, part of the guidelines is to call an emergency number or the ambulance but then again how many cases can they attend to considering the state of our roads and inaccessible neighborhoods by wheels.

We’ve hospitals where some patients are sharing beds. So, how do you effectively isolate and treat people? For me, it goes beyond asking for water but figuratively about social infrastructures.

As a social worker, what do you think the future holds for African women in politics in restructuring the system?

There’s no limit to our possibilities, and we’ve seen it. We’ve seen African women breaking grounds. Recently, we see Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela taking the lead at World Trade Organization ( WTO). There’s no limit to what the African woman in this day and time can achieve.

Before, we could only dream, but there were no living examples of our dreams. African women would dream about things that only happen in the West. But now there’s a huge paradigm shift.

Tell us about your activities at Sisterspeak237?

Currently what we’re doing especially in the month of March which is women’s month will revolve around our new TV show called Spotlight (recently launched).

And we’re doing this in partnership with pan-African TV station (Naja TV). What we’re doing with Spotlight is to have critical conversations that are usually not discussed on mainstream media. There are experiences that have to be shared for the progress of the society, question the status quo, and also celebrate our unsung heroes tagging it as Conversations Worth Having.

For March, we’ll be partnering with the Society of Gynecologists in Cameroon for the project “Access to Maternal Health”. This project was inspired due to the rate of maternal mortality and mobility (severe complications) of unsafe abortions in Cameroon. We’re looking at legal issues to break the silence and amplify the voice of women and disabled persons.

By Elijah Christopher

Elijah Christopher

Elijah Christopher is a journalist at A New Touch Of Africa, is also a creative writer, a poet, and an IT enthusiast. He contributed to the collaborative poem written in celebration of Edwin Morgan Centenary, the first Glasgow poet laureate and Scottish national poet from the University of Glasgow. He loves meeting people and learning about new places, cultures, events, and lifestyles.

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