South Africa is battling a virulent form of the mosquito-borne virus called Omicron, which can cause meningitis, liver disease and death.
A measles outbreak had previously seen two of its school children killed, but the academic year has resumed in universities this week without incident. But R2 about “the Oriental Beast”, a line used in Cyril Ramaphosa’s biography, is still picking up over the East Rand, a frontier where the West Rand slum known as “Nkandla” lies just 50 yards from campus.
The most lethal strain of the virus is Omicron autogestis, which can kill its victims in less than a week.
The government of South Africa’s largest province, Gauteng, does not yet have any schools or communities affected, and has had no deaths as a result of the more recent epidemics. In the worst case, women in Nkandla had to be shunned for weeks because of fear of the virus.
But even for areas close to medical attention the national government is struggling to make its presence felt.
In May the government announced in a regional statement on its website that six colleges – four in Limpopo and two in Gauteng – would be without laboratory facilities for several days.
The problem arose when a laboratory attached to a center for the prevention of Aids was moved in the country’s mining town of Mossel Bay, at an eye-watering price. The work was central to public health in Gauteng, a region with a billion people and the world’s three largest reservoirs of HIV/Aids, which infects a quarter of South Africa’s population.