THE Covid-19 pandemic was at its peak then, with new variants emerging, each posing a different threat, but often greater disease severity than its immediate predecessor.
Ordinary people did not really know much about the variants of the coronavirus until Delta was discovered in India December 2020 and spread fast worldwide. As viruses typically do, a number of its sub-mutations came in succeeding months.
In late November 2021, Omicron was identified and, within a month, overtook Delta as the dominant variant globally. It was extremely transmissible, scientists told the world, but assured us that it caused milder infections and people were less likely to be hospitalised if it infected them. This, perhaps, was because the strain came along as vaccination against the virus had gained momentum worldwide. That variant has remained dominant worldwide since then.
Worth noting is that this is the second coronavirus strain to be identified in Africa together with Beta, first reported in South Africa in December 2020.
Omicron did not originate from Africa, but was identified in Botswana in four Westerners who had arrived in the country on November 7, 2021. A medical doctor, Sikhulile Moyo, soon became a regular feature in global news outlets as he shared information on how he and his team had isolated the viral strain. There are not many Moyos in this world who are not Zimbabwean. Since professionals of his stature often have their profiles posted online, it was easy for the inquisitive to note that indeed, the medical doctor who had led the team to make the discovery was indeed Zimbabwean. He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Zimbabwe in 1996, emigrated to Botswana and later became a respected virologist.
He got global recognition for the work around Omicron and other accomplishments — the Festus Mogae Award of HIV Research, the Martin Luther King Jr Humanitarian Award, the German Africa Award 2022, Time 100 most influential people in the world 2022, New African Award top 100 most influential Africans 2022.
It would have been remiss for a person who led a team to make such a huge discovery; such an important contribution to humanity’s quest to understand Covid-19 to be honoured abroad, and not to be honoured at home.
President Mnangagwa did the needful yesterday, awarding a US$50 000 token of appreciation to Dr Moyo and indicating that a bigger honour is fittingly being considered.
Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development Minister, Professor Amon Murwira, handed over the gift to Dr Moyo at his rural home in Donkwe-Donkwe near Kezi, Matabeleland South.
Prof Murwira, as we report elsewhere today, said Zimbabwe appreciates in a big way Dr Moyo’s contribution to saving humanity.
“In this regard His Excellency, the President Dr E D Mnangagwa in recognition of this great scientific achievement, is actually looking into the most appropriate excellence award to be given nationally to Dr Moyo,” he said.
“It means the big thing is coming. However, in the meantime, His Excellency, the President Dr E.D. Mnangagwa presents this token. This is just a token of appreciation to Dr Moyo on behalf of Government and people of Zimbabwe, of US$50 000.”
It must have been profoundly significant and satisfying for the scientist to receive the national honour at his rural home. It ended up being a huge party in the village.
We are happy that Zimbabwe was put yet again on the global map for excelling. Zimbabweans excel everywhere they go. Dr Moyo is a huge addition on the list. As Prof Murwira said, the scientist’s breakthrough must serve as a motivation to other people that indeed nothing is impossible as long as they work hard and smart.
President Mnangagwa deserves the plaudits for extending the honour to Dr Moyo. Previously, we tended to honour our luminaries when they pass on, but in doing what the Government did yesterday, the country has honoured one of its icons during his lifetime. That’s commendable.