Towards the end of last week, Kenya confirmed her first case of COVID-19; days after the World Health Organization declared the disease a pandemic. This becomes the second global disease outbreak of the 21st Century after Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which swept across continents in 2002, almost crippling local and regional economies.
However, this newest strain of coronavirus has proved deadlier with over 200,000 infected and over 10,000 people killed. The disease continues to stampede around the world and wreck havoc, changing lifestyles and grounding activities in countries such as Italy that is in total lockdown. Interestingly, the outbreak, likened to a war, has largely spared Sub-Saharan Africa which is sensitive and prone to outbreaks. A fact that has baffled experts who are still trying to find the reason why the disease has not found a hotbed in the continent.
But in spite of this and measures taken by most countries in the region to keep COVID-19 at bay, it was not a question of if but when the disease would finally make landfall. Nigeria confirmed its first case in the region in late February. East Africa recorded its first death in Sudan last week. So far, the disease has spread to more than 170 countries.
News about the first infection in Kenya sparked panic across the country, with hundreds thronging supermarkets to stock up on food, sanitizers, and soap. In heavily populated streets and squares of the capital, Nairobi, hawkers were already selling facemasks. Videos emerged on social media of matatu conductors in masks sanitizing the hands of passengers boarding buses.
Public gatherings including political rallies were canceled. On Sunday, churches provided sanitizers and water to their faithful and avoided physical contact such as the shaking of hands. All these events taking place in the backdrop of an already overstretched economy. There’s no doubt then that this outbreak is a greater risk to the country and the continent at large. The question behind the minds of everyone is how we can nip the outbreak in the bud before it’s too late?
As artists, we have a role to play. We must contribute to the crucial efforts of controlling this disease. Our foremost duty is to create awareness by educating people through artistic mediums such as photography and video the major aspects of COVID-19. We can easily achieve this by creating content revolving around the preventative measures. Like washing and sanitizing hands the proper way. We can help demystify the multiple theories surrounding the disease, like how it spreads and what to do in the eventuality of infection.
Art is a powerful tool in the fight against enemies of humanity. In a time of crisis, it can be used to not only spell out the reality at hand but to also, create hope. This pandemic is our chance to use our artistic skills for the benefit of our world. It is also a rare opportunity to spend the time we have on our hands perusing past artworks that coincide with such difficult times, draw lessons from them and share with the world. Be it photography, video, paintings, drawings or literature; let us use art as a weapon against the COVID-19 pandemic and win this war that threatens our daily lives.