The world is racing towards a Covid-19 vaccine; and amidst the wait there has been so many twists and turns; albeit science clashing with politics in some instances. All the while scientists have been saved by their phlegmatic approach to issues hence neutralizing the somehow polemical politicians.
According to NBC News via their Covid-19 Vaccine Watch, by end of this week there were 139 vaccines in development; and 28 vaccines in human trials. The world is hoping and waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine and treatment breakthroughs. These statistics are all in the backdrop of a Russian ‘breakthrough’ which has attracted criticism from rivals in the political and scientific world.
The world has already seen the twists and turns of remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, favipiravir, and others. There was another potentially dangerous hypothesis that raised eyebrows and drew outright hostility in some quarters – that claimed nicotine could potentially play a role in treating COVID-19!
Back home in the capital Gaborone, the Acting Coordinator of the Covid-19 Task Team, Professor Mosepele Mosepele announced on national broadcaster, BTV that they have a new definition of ‘Recovery’ for Covid-19 patients. Patients who have been with the virus for over 10 days and are certified by a medical professional to be well shall be deemed a ‘Recovery’. This is in line with the latest WHO standards, he said.
Pliable as they are, to WHO protocols, Botswana’s Covid-19 Task Team has not been excited by the plethora of covid-19 remedies being brandished wishy washy style in the global arena. They were not inch moved by Madagascar’s herbal concoction hailed by that country’s president. In any case the hype around the concoction dissipated within a matter of days.
Meanwhile as the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom assembled over 200 scientists on Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine research team and came up with an Oxford candidate vaccine, called AZD1222; the University of Botswana was also taking a shot at local herbal plants to see if they could not sum up a Covid-19 remedy. At Oxford, AZD1222 seems to have no serious side effects and triggered an immune response among over 1,000 people involved in the trials. However, there is still a long way to go before the vaccine can be declared ready for widespread usage.
AZD1222 is one of several potential COVID-19 vaccines being developed around the world. Batswana are still waiting for the latest report from University of Botswana scientists as far as the research on Covid-19 remedy is concerned.
Scientists are using four platforms to generate monoclonal antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein: human antibody phage display; immunized human antibody transgenic mice; antibodies isolated from the blood of people who have recovered from infection; and computational structure-based antibody design.
In parallel to work on antibodies, scientists are using all of their expertise in medicinal chemistry and chemical assets to find small molecule inhibitors. In some parts of the world they are screening their entire molecular library of more than one million compounds to identify those with potential activity to treat COVID-19.
They are using computational screening to speedily search this huge resource, starting with two priority viral targets: SARS-CoV-2 main protease and SARS-CoV-2 papain-like protease. The expertise they have built in artificial intelligence-aided optimization of drug candidates will speed their path, they say.
Russia blows own BIG trumpet
Russia’s Vladmir Putin has been blowing his own trumpet lately. His social media platforms were pregnant with enthusiastically worded self-approvals of a vaccine that has been developed in Russia and was about to be released to the public. In fact his daughter has already received the first dosage of the vaccine.
Reports indicate that initial batches of Russia’s coronavirus vaccine will roll off production lines within as soon as two weeks. The plan is to immunize doctors before going to the general public, the country’s health minister said Wednesday. Vaccine production in Russia will be domestic-oriented, geared to covering internal demands, Mikhail Murashko said at a news conference in Moscow giving additional details about the much-anticipated vaccine.
Meanwhile, the Russian Fund of Direct Investment (RDIF) is negotiating the production of the vaccine abroad. Asked about safety, Alexander Gintsburg, head of the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology – which developed the pioneering vaccine – said the vaccine is based on a well-researched scientific platform dating back decades.
“The platform has been in development for 25 years for the purpose of gene therapy, but at the end of 2014 it was used to create drugs to fight the most rapidly changing viruses,” he said. Meanwhile Russia has dismissed mounting international concern over the safety of its locally developed Covid-19 vaccine as “absolutely groundless”.
On Tuesday, it said a vaccine had been given regulatory approval after less than two months of testing on humans. But experts were quick to raise concerns about the speed of Russia’s work, and a growing list of countries have expressed scepticism. Scientists in Germany, France, Spain and the US have all urged caution.
“It seems our foreign colleagues are sensing the specific competitive advantages of the Russian drug and are trying to express opinions that… are absolutely groundless,” Russia’s Health Minister Mikhail Murashko told the Interfax news agency on Wednesday.
Trump trumpeted hydroxychloroquine
In late March and early April, American President, Donald Trump repeatedly proclaimed that hydroxychloroquine could prevent or treat COVID-19. Reports from the USA show that within days, the number of prescriptions for the drug skyrocketed even though evidence it could safely prevent or treat the disease was at the time very weak.
“A casual remark by a president who is not in any way a medical expert somehow led thousands of U.S. physicians to write prescriptions for a drug that had never before been used to treat a viral illness.” On March 21 President Trump touted hydroxychloroquine – and its biochemical cousin, chloroquine – as potential “game changers” in the battle against COVID-19. Two months later, he announced on national television that he had been taking the drug himself as a preventative treatment.
Statistics shared from America indicate that during the 10-week period between Feb. 17 and April 27 doctors wrote approximately 483,000 more prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine than in the same time period in 2019. The week after President Trump mentioned the drug during a press conference, prescriptions were up more than 200% compared to the previous year.
“The vast majority of excess prescriptions were written between March 14 and April 4, but as news spread about shortages of the drug and the lack of evidence to support its use, prescribing returned quickly to normal,” reports one of the news hubs based in the USA.
“Research now shows that this once-promising drug likel isn’t effective for preventing or treating COVID 19, but the damage was already done. Hundreds of thousands of Americans unnecessarily took medicine that can have dangerous side effects. Additionally, many people with an actual medical need to take hydroxychloroquine – like those living with lupus and related autoimmune diseases – found themselves unable to obtain the drugs they needed.” In Botswana, thanks to the sagacious Covid-19 Task Team, Batswana stayed away from the politically charged blanket prescription.
Amid all these twists and turns, Botswana has kept it simple, the World Health Organisation (WHO) remains the template. This is notwithstanding the political gymnastics playing out here at home, occasionally giving accretion to social media misinformation; and acerbity in political speeches.
While it takes a lot to penetrate and thrive in the male dominated political space in Botswana, Block 3 Ward councillor Motamma Horatius, is one of the few females defying the odds.
Driven by passion, Horatius has always worn many hats and today she has become one of the few women who are thriving in the political space in Botswana. Prior to pursuing politics, she was an active participated in the creative space.
Horatius, a beauty queen, notably famous for her reign as Miss World Tourism Botswana represented Botswana in a television show famously known as Big Brother Africa. During her stay in the house, she got termed darling of the continent for an outstanding performance that promoted unity, humility and culture.
After serving for some time in public space, and making a name for herself as well as serving as a brand ambassador she decided to step in a career that will forever challenge her. This was after she had travelled the world and demonstrated her unique leadership skills and brilliance.
“I stopped and asked myself why am I not incorporating this brilliance back home. And wherever you go worldwide Botswana with all her faults is a beacon of hope in everything. And even successful countries came here to benchmark and implemented our policies and are flourishing such as Rwanda. So I decided to join active politics and go straight to the ruling party to add a youthful feel to an already existing force and help modernise it to serve better not from afar but from within,” she clarified.
“So my ample experience in civic leadership across countries around the world catapulted me to join active politics because I wondered, if I can do as much as an individual even across nations, how much can I do whilst in office, locally. And I chose to start from the ground up, in order to avoid leaving the locals behind.”
The stern and tenacious young leader, currently sit as the Chairperson of Finance Committee at Gaborone City Council, and also chairs Performance Monitoring Committee.
While a typical girl would dream of becoming either a nurse or choose a ‘girl’ orientated deemed career, she had a heart for politics from a very young age. By the time she left the creative space, she had already made a name for herself, that she needed no introduction.
“I had to acknowledge first that I am a woman, and being a woman means you have to work 200 percent more than your male counterparts. So it took sleeplessness nights, and a massive amount of working smart to win legitimately,” she said.
She acknowledges that she faced a lot of challenges during the 2019 elections which she had to overcome through the assistance of her loved ones and family.
“Politics is expensive but I managed by God’s grace, family, friends, acquaintances and good Samaritans but my mind helped. I am a very good planner when it comes to execution,” she said.
“Another hurdle is, being a young woman, I had conceived during the time of primary elections; so campaigning whilst expectant, managing your emotions through betrayals, insults, stress, house-to-house then giving birth and having to hit the ground in less than two weeks having given birth via C-section, was a hurdle I overcame by God’s mercy and I am thankful to my family for helping me with the kids because politics means a lot of time away from home.”
“Another hurdle was to portray an all rounded culturally grounded Motswana woman soft but yet stern, respectful but can articulate issues well. Because even though we are civilized our society still upholds unwritten yet practiced values of what a woman is and what a man is, and if you defy societal expectations, it judges you harshly. But thankfully I remained focused on who I was and didn’t try alternate anything When I lost some of the original members of my campaign team. The pain was deep. But I wiped my tears. Soldiered on, and God increased twice the initial number.”
At some point she had to face demeaning words from other male contestants, but the best to do at the time was to shun negativity and stay focused. Male intimidation never tugged her down.
“My experience with 2019 elections was rather inclined to learning as it was my first time running for office as a politician, so I wanted to see if really hard work has results because I always hear stories of how people are bought,” she said.
“So since I was not buying anyone, I was on a learning curve to test my hard work style of delivery against what is believed out there. So it was exciting and again I say it was a learning curve as most NGOs fighting to increase women participation in politics were continuously training us.’
Despite everything she feels women political participation in Botswana is still low. She has pleaded with the media to cover them more often as she believes maybe it will help more women to run for office.
Botswana has few women in parliament, giving men dominance in policy decisions. In a 63-seat parliament, Botswana has only seven female MPs, four of them being specially elected lawmakers.
According to the 2019 edition of the biennial Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Map of Women in Politics. Among the top African countries with a high percentage of women in ministerial positions are Rwanda (51.9%), South Africa (48.6%), Ethiopia (47.6%), Seychelles (45.5%), Uganda (36.7%) and Mali (34.4%).
The lowest percentage in Africa was in Morocco (5.6%), which has only one female minister in a cabinet of 18.
Other countries with fewer than 10% women ministers include Nigeria (8%), Mauritius (8.7%) and Sudan (9.5%).Other African countries with high percentages of women MPs include Namibia (46.2%), South Africa (42.7%) and Senegal (41.8%), according to the report.
Though a slight increase, Botswana is still lagging behind when it comes to women political participation.
According to a report made by IEC for the 2019 elections, there is 11.1% women representation in parliament. There has been a 1.6% slight increase from the 2019 election compared to the 2014 elections.
According to United Nations, there are two main obstacles that prevent women from participating fully in political life.
These are structural barriers, whereby discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women’s ability to run for office, and capacity gaps, which occur when women are less likely than men to have the education, contacts and resources needed to become effective leaders.
As it stands though, Botswana has continued to recognize gender equality as central to socio-economic, political and cultural development through its National Vision 2036.
Following the adoption of the National Policy on Gender and Development in 2015, the National Gender Commission was established in September 2016, to monitor implementation of the policy.
Government ministries and departments have moved to cut expenditure in the last quarter of financial year in order to survive the economic hardship occasioned by the covid-19 pandemic. Since the outbreak, Government and the private sector have been hard hit financially due to limited economic activity brought about by government response to fighting the pandemic.
In an urgent savingram by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, Molefi Keaja addressed to all council secretaries and town clerks, the government informs that it is facing unprecedented budgetary challenges for Financial Year 2020/2021.
“This has necessitated measures to be put in place to conserve cash and ensure that government is able to honour its financial obligations in the remaining (3) months of the financial year,” said the savingram dated 24 December 2020.
The Government has cut all travel by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) including State owned entities (SOEs) and Local Authorities until the next financial year in April 2021. It has also taken a decision that all meetings, interviews, seminars, workshops, conferences, retreats, annual ceremonies and hospitality events should be conducted virtually, which save on the cost of securing venues, conference facilities and meals/refreshments.
“No replenishment of refreshments for the Executive Cadre (E2 salary scale and above) until the end of the financial year,” Keaja directed. Last year government also resolved that due to the financial effects of Covid-19 the government will no longer recruit for any jobs during the 2020/2021 financial year.
The Cabinet directed that the 2020/2021 provision for vacancies be withdrawn from Ministries, Departments and Agencies recurrent budgets to cater for supplementary estimates. According to the saving gram then by the Directorate on Public Service Management (DPSM) said the country faces fiscal challenges which have been accentuated by the emergence and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amongst key ministries and departments affected were the Botswana Defence Force, National Strategy Office, Directorate of Intelligence and Security (DIS), Commissioner of Police, Commissioner of Prisons, Clerk of National Assembly and the Directorate on Corruption & Economic Crime (DCEC).
It further deliberated that all various institutions that had begun recruitment for existing vacant positions be frozen for the remaining period of the 2020/2021 financial year. “Since funds for the vacancies will only be recruited in the next financial year 2020/20121, Ministries, Department and Agencies are advised to discontinue recruitment into such vacancies until 1st April 2021. Those who are already at an advanced stage of recruitment process are advised to withhold appointments until further notice.”
The Director of Directorate on Public Service Management (DPSM), Goitseone Mosalakatane, told the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in September that despite the high unemployment rate, they cannot hire for the posts because part of the funds have been withdrawn to fight the Coronavirus.
With just a few days into the New Year, Covid-19 seems to be taking its toll and its effects will be felt vastly in the long run. Countries worldwide, including Botswana are injecting in millions of money in the fight against the deadly virus therefore placing immense uncertainty on country’s economy.
When delivering his speech at last year’s State of Nation Address President Mokgweetsi Masisi said during 2020, the domestic economy was expected to contract by 8.9 percent indicating that this is attributed to an expected sharp decline in major sectors such as mining, (minus 24.5 percent); trade, hotels and restaurants (minus 27.4 percent); construction (minus 6 percent); manufacturing (minus 3.9 percent); and transport and communications (minus 2.5 percent).
However, he assured that the economy is expected to rebound during 2021, with overall growth projected at 7.7 percent. The anticipated recovery will be driven by a rebound in growth of some major sectors such as mining (14.4 percent), trade, hotels and restaurants (18.8 percent), and transport and communications (4.2 percent).
Furthermore, Masisi pointed out that the recovery will also be supported by the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan currently being implemented by Government. “It is critical to note that these projections are dependent on, among others, the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions.
These containment measures have the effect of reducing spending by firms and households and causing supply-chain disruptions. Beyond this, the recovery phase will be influenced by confidence effects on households and businesses; sectoral transformation and changes in work patterns; as well as prospects for the recovery of global financial markets and commodity prices.”
Emphasising this, he explained that despite the challenges of COVID-19 there still remains the delicate balance of opening the economy whilst containing the disease burden. “Inflation according to the latest data from Statistics Botswana, inflation fell significantly from 2.2 percent in September 2019 to 1.8 percent in September 2020, remaining below the lower bound of the Bank of Botswana’s medium-term objective range of 3 to 6 percent,” he said.
The significant decline in inflation mainly reflects the downward adjustment in fuel prices in June 2020. However, inflation may rise above the current forecasts if the international commodity prices increase beyond current projections and in the event of upward price pressures occasioned by supply constraints due to travel restrictions and lockdowns.
The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) last year had to cancel its elective congress due to the strict measures that had to be put in place due to Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.
Two other party events Women’s Wing Congress including the much anticipated victorious election celebration were also postponed due to the pandemic as gatherings were cancelled indefinitely. However the BDP is adamant that the party will be able to hold its National Congress and all other events that had been frozen this year.
Speaking to this publication chairman of BDP Communication & International Relations Sub-Committee Kagelelo Kentse said that the party was readying itself for the congress with the main objective being to review resolutions that were taken at their 38th National Congress in Mochudi in 2019. Emphasising this, Kentse said it was commendable that most of the resolutions taken in 2019 have by far been fulfilled.
Moreover, he said it would mean a lot for the party to be able to meet at the congress, this he said would give them the opportunity to introspect and reflect with regards to their manifesto. In 2019 the BDP made about eleven resolutions of which five of these were resolved and gazetted. The abridged resolutions were that the amendment of the law to allow agricultural land owners to use up to 50 percent of their land for non-core purposes, to amend the law to cancel transfer duty on property transferred between the spouses.
President Masisi also passed a law to allow married couples to be independently allocated land and increase threshold for non-payment of transfer on property acquired from P250k to P750k. On the resolution in the tourism sector, Kentse said efforts are very advanced to have local play a part. He said there is ongoing work with the Ministry of Lands on concessions that will be allocated to citizens.
According to the BDP communications chair the Ministry of Tourism has availed more opportunities in dams for tourism thus far, having already issued expression of interest for Letsibogo, Dikgatlhong, and Gaborone dams. Citizens are said to have applied for tenders which are currently under evaluation. There are about 45 campsites set aside for citizens in game reserves and forest reserves for tourism.
The resolution on the declaration of assets and liabilities law which was passed and amended this year, was supported by all legislators including those from opposition. Emphasising this he explained that contentions were on issues to do with valuations, and leaders have started declaring.
With the Congress comprising of the elective congress, the BDP is yet to embark on it an objective Kentse said is on their to do list this year even though the calendar of events has not yet been made. The elective congress has aroused interest, especially the Secretary General position which has attracted a number of participants of which observers believe will accord the incumbent, Mpho Balopi, the current secretary general, the opportunity to buy time if at all he will seek re-election in the position.