The year 2020 was welcomed with so much hope and great expectations. Individuals, institutions and governments everywhere had projections on ways to improve lives and livelihoods as well as laid down patterns to navigate the new year. Unfortunately, the world was shut down by the negative impacts of the coronavirus disease in March 2020 and till date, we are faced with the reality of adapting to a “new normal.”
One of the lessons the pandemic emphasized was the urgency needed to strengthen various systems; from healthcare to education and more importantly, governance. When the United Nations (UN) adopted the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, as a framework to guide progress across the globe, no one knew that there would be an unprecedented moment in the history of the world. Thankfully, before the global crisis caused by COVID-19, the United Nations declared 2020-2030 as the ‘Decade of Action’ to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and mobilize financing to achieve the target date of 2030.
The quest for a more sustainable world is clearly not the sole responsibility of the UN, nor the advanced Nations but the collective responsibility of everyone regardless of background, race, religion, socio-economic status, political inclination or gender. The pandemic proved that we are interconnected as a people and that a decline in progress in a particular country affects other countries, directly or indirectly. As the coronavirus disease continues to ravage systems and institutions, the gaps in reaching the 2030 goal continues to widen. Without doubts, there have been pockets of progress attained with respect to the Sustainable Development Goals but there is so much more to be done in order to bridge these gaps. Together, we have been through a lot to enable any structure or ignore broken systems that would lead to a “lost decade.’’
To avoid this menace in the future, governments at all levels ought to partner with relevant stakeholders to ensure nobody is left behind. Using the Sustainable Development Goals as a guiding protocol, reviews must be done to ascertain the level of progress and strategize on how best to improve the existing data. The African Union (AU) is the central focus for all operations pertaining the development of the African continent. The leadership of the AU must make it a priority to hold individual member countries accountable in the aspect of fulfilling the mandate of the Sustainable Development Goals. No goal is to be relegated in the grand scheme of things as there are intersections that exist across the 17 goals; fighting against hunger is as valid as the need to build peace, justice and strong institutions. Localizing the Sustainable Development Goals will go a long way in supporting the delivery of the Decade of Action. Each member country may adopt peculiar methods and patterns in achieving this. The concept is to think globally using the SDGs framework while acting locally.
African governments must work towards disrupting the narrative of treating access to healthcare as an expensive privilege. This setback hugely tampers with the realization of the universal health coverage. Access to quality healthcare is a human right and must not be diminished because a healthy nation gives opportunity for a more prosperous world. Financing is key in fixing the health systems of countries hence, the need to ensure significant resources are allocated to annual budgets for health and monitored for implementation. In Nigeria, for example, the allocation of the 1% Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) for the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) in 2018 has helped in bringing the country closer to fully implementing the National Health Act 2014. This was championed by ONE Campaign as well as other civil society organizations through active advocacies including lobbying policy makers. Other governments can adopt this unique strategy to bring access to healthcare services closer to every citizen. The welfare of healthcare workers should not be left out. Their resilience at the peak of the pandemic saved so many lives. They took risks serving at the frontlines and many of them lost their lives in the process. It is high time frameworks were put in place to support the great work they do always.
Another sector that was gravely affected was the Educational Sector. According to reports by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO), the lives of 1.6 billion students were affected in over 190 countries around the world. This was as a result of the closure of schools due to the pandemic. Governments worked towards providing alternative solutions but research from UNESCO shows that one third of the world’s students could not access remote learning, while it is estimated that those in low and middle-income countries have lost nearly four months of schooling compared to six weeks in high-income countries. To support this report, one of the Federal Government-owned secondary schools in Nigeria organized remote classes for its students during the lockdown. As was the case, not all students could afford such learning option. Upon resumption in October, teachers were asked to repeat all that was taught remotely and this led to achieving so little within the timeframe set for the term.
Imagine a world where quality education is affordable, accessible and more importantly, free! The time has come for actions to be taken in investing significantly in Education. The new normal of limiting physical meetings as a means of containing the spread of the virus has reemphasized the need to strengthen the education reforms that are inclusive and holistic in approach. The integration of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in Education cannot be neglected. The world revolves around technology and it is pertinent for all students and teachers across the world to have free access to ICT tools. This would assist in healthy competitions and economic development.
The use of radio technology and innovative methods of learning that do not require the use of internet and/ or smart phones is another effective way to ensure inclusion in education, especially for children living in grassroot and underserved communities. Volunteer-based teachings, working groups and peer-to-peer learning will also help to educate millions of children and make progress evaluation easier.
As schools reopen, conducive environments for learning should be made available and TLMs (Teaching Learning Materials) should also be provided for; for all categories of learners so everyone, irrespective of diversity, is carried along. Teacher training is also very important so they are well-equipped with the resources and tools which they need to pass on knowledge and ensure positive results, especially with respect to adapting to the global changes and new trends.
Despite the fact that the lockdown was a trusted measure in limiting the spread of coronavirus, it brought about the escalation of a shadow pandemic which is Gender-Based Violence. World over, young women and girls were at high risk of being victims of sexual violence. Most of them were locked down with their abusers and sadly, some died unjustly. Globally, before the emergence of the pandemic, the United Nations Women reports that 1 in 3 women experienced physical or sexual violence mostly by an intimate partner. Emerging data also revealed that there was an increase in calls to domestic violence helplines in many countries since the COVID-19 outbreak. Unarguably, violence against women and girls is also a human rights violation. Provisions ought to be made to ensure victims have access to professional psychosocial support and systems must be put in place to seek justice. This would afford the girls and women the ability to lead fulfilling lives beyond what society projects. It will also play a vital role in ensuring that perpetrators know that there are consequences to their actions.
The fight against multidimensional poverty is a collective responsibility that must be tackled with urgency. With youths being a significant proportion of the world’s population, it is necessary to make available certain resources and spaces that encourage creativity and innovations. These have proven to be pillars that sustain economic growth and diversity. To recover from the strains caused by the pandemic, it has become important to embrace and facilitate entrepreneurship that extends to different fields of endeavor. The essence is to create room for public-private partnerships in preserving the dignity of life and creating opportunities for many more young people, giving everyone a fighting chance at life.
It is totally disheartening to see people who do not believe in the reality of the coronavirus disease. Some declare it to be a politicized venture while some feel it is a myth. The millions of deaths recorded worldwide serve as proof that COVID-19 is no folklore. To handle this major problem, governments must win the trust of its citizens by adopting different techniques to disseminate the facts about the disease. The information may be translated into major local languages to achieve the aim. Using pop culture, experts and influential gatekeepers are other means of information dissemination. With initiatives such as ONE Campaign’s #PassTheMic, millions and billions of people will get to be learn from experts about the virus and actionable steps to take to end the disease. False reports have caused a lot of harm hence, debunking them must be non-negotiable. Different media platforms can be used for this to be achieved, that is, primary media such as radio and television, online platforms as well as print media. Africa remains the world’s youngest continent and a significant percentage of African youths have access to social media on a daily basis. Governments and international bodies can utilize the various social media platforms to share verified information on ways to prevent and manage COVID-19.
The provision and distribution of tested and trusted vaccines to all citizens is another effective way of stopping the spread of the virus, ensuring the safety of everyone and returning to work to get back to our various activities, sustain our sources of livelihoods and promote economic growth and development, both continentally and globally, etc.
According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Africa needs at least $100 billion to resource a health and social safety net response, and another $100 billion for economic stimulus, including a debt standstill; the financing of a special purpose vehicle for commercial debt obligations, and provision of extra liquidity for the private sector. If these debt burdens are not lifted, there is the danger of having economic infrastructure collapsing. The international communities should consider relieving the payment of certain debts owed by African governments as (immediate) repayment of loans may increase the level of extreme poverty in the continent.
A system should be put in place by International organizations, agencies and financial institutions to guarantee due diligence procedures are carried out and hinder the mismanagement and/ or embezzlement of funds (loans, grants, etc.) by African governments, so that the desired transformation and development that week seek is achieved.
Also, the international communities ought to commit towards encouraging collaborations and partnerships that foster the actualization of the Sustainable Development Goals. This leads to global equity and equality with everyone having a fair chance at life.
Adopting the above-listed urgent steps would assist greatly in avoiding a lost decade. This is not just a call to action for African governments only, it is the civic responsibility of everyone everywhere, as “none of us are equal until all of us are equal.”
Contemporary Media Use in Nigeria by Broadcasting Board of Governors