The virus - a global social crisis
"European tourists who have not paid the slightest attention to our legal regulations on pandemic control are responsible for the spread of COVID-19 in South Africa". With these stark words, Professor Rozena Maart from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Bremen's partner city Durban opened an exciting discourse on the social implications of the coronavirus pandemic. Professor Maart joined the online panel discussion (part of Open Campus Week) at the invitation of the International Office and the Alumni Association, with funding from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
For Rozena Maart, who is also a University of Bremen Research Ambassador, there is clearly a racist dimension when white Europeans who enjoy travelling to South Africa in winter cannot imagine that they, too, can be carriers of diseases — a behaviour that is part of a long colonialist tradition.
Nonetheless, the virus has not spread in Africa to the same extent as, for example, on the Indian subcontinent. Professor Hajo Zeeb, head of the Department of Prevention and Evaluation at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology — BIPS in Bremen, attributed this to various factors. On one hand, some African countries had effective infection control at a very early stage. On the other hand, people in Africa suffer on average far less than in Europe or the USA from obesity or cardiovascular diseases, which are the main risk factors for a severe course of COVID-19. However, there is still a big question mark as to whether the existing statistics paint a true picture. Much more detailed research is needed in this area.
Professor Sørge Kelm, a biochemist at the University of Bremen, joined the conference live from Tanzania. In this East African country, the recently deceased president had consistently denied the existence of COVID-19. His successor in office has since completely changed course and Professor Kelm is busy supporting the development of testing capacities on the island of Zanzibar.
With this thought-provoking event, our alumni have pushed forward a debate on a subject that has received far too little public attention in Germany.