Ashiru recommends strategic protocols to combat the pandemic
• Response has been incoherent, lacking focus, says Tomori
• Agwale fears vaccine hesitancy could pose a serious prevention problem
• Weak logistics responsible for vaccine delay says Ohuabunwa
Nigeria will tomorrow mark the first anniversary of the confirmed COVID-19 case in the country. The index case was confirmed on February 27, 2020, in Lagos, and was the first to be reported in Nigeria since the beginning of the outbreak in China in January 2020.
The case was an Italian citizen, who worked in Nigeria and returned from Milan, Italy to Lagos, February 25, 2020. He was confirmed by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) Idi Araba, part of the laboratory network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
One year after, the country is still grappling to contain the virus. It has tested only over 153,842 as of February 24, 2021, which represents 0.0769 per cent of the country’s population of 200 million. This is compared to South Africa, which has tested 8,932,950 of its citizens for COVID-19 as of February 23, 2021.
In fact, a household survey published earlier this week by NCDC and Nigerian Institute for Medical Research (NIMR Yaba, showed one in five people tested had antibodies for COVID-19, which means they have had the virus. This means over 40 millions Nigerians, that is one in five or 20 per cent of 200 million population of the country, have had COVID-19.
Also, Nigeria, which is the most populated black nation in the world, is yet to take delivery of COVID-19 vaccines unlike Ghana and South Africa. Ghana, on Wednesday, February 24, 2021, became the first country in sub-Saharan African to take delivery of COVID-19 vaccines under the COVAX facility.
Also, one year after, the country is still recording cases and deaths. According to latest figures from NCDC, on February 24, 2021, 655 new confirmed cases and 11 deaths were recorded in Nigeria.
To date, 153842 cases have been confirmed, 130818 cases have been discharged and 1885 deaths have been recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory
Director-General, NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, told The Guardian: “The last year has been an extraordinary year for health security in Nigeria and across the world. In Nigeria, we have recorded over 150,000 cases across all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Sadly, we have lost more than 1,800 people.
He said: “Although the number of cases in Nigeria and the rest of Africa has been less than countries in other regions of the world, the pandemic has had a toll on lives and livelihood. It has also provided an opportunity for further investment in health security.
“In the last one year, NCDC has led the activation of at least one molecular laboratory for testing in every state. We have completed the rollout of the Surveillance, Outbreak Response Management and Analysis System (SORMAS) for digital surveillance and reporting of infectious diseases across the country. Thousands of health workers have been trained in several areas, including infection prevention control. We have supported the renovation of several treatment centres and begun the establishment of 17 treatment centres for infectious diseases. Five of these have been completed.”
Ihekweazu said as the science around the response evolved, they had developed over 50 guidelines for health workers and the general public, saying they published weekly situation report on the epidemiology of the disease and the Centre’s response activities.
“We have also maintained communication with Nigerians through social media, short message service (SMS), television, radio, newspapers and other means,” he added.
He attributed the success of the centre to the strong support from partners, including the organised private sector in Nigeria.
The centre, according to him, focused on controlling the acute phase of the pandemic and building sustainable structures for future outbreaks.
A virologist and chairman, Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, told The Guardian the non-severity in terms of a number of cases and deaths in Nigeria, as compared with other countries, outside Africa, was not because of what the government or the people did right, but more because of what the virus did not do.
He observed that the response to the COVID-19 outbreak was different from the reaction to the Ebola outbreak in 2014.
He said: There was focus, coherence and concerted national response to control Ebola. Not so with COVID-19. Our effort has remained incoherent. The government has failed to fully engage the people in working together as a team to respond and confront the epidemic. The government is having its different says, and the people are having their different ways, in parallel and in many different directions.
“Up till today, a state of the federation claims the state is free of COVID-19 cases. We have largely failed to comply with the basic preventive measures and our laboratory testing has been inconsistent, varying from state to state. There has never been a national consensus and agreement on our response to COVID-19. It is more of the lessons forgotten than lessons learnt.”
On the way forward, Tomori said COVID 19 should be declared a national emergency that has adversely affected social-economic well-being and security. He underscored the need to speak with one voice, respond with one purpose and act with one objective to effectively control the spread of COVID-19.
“We must take the COVID-19 challenges and our failures as opportunities to re-evaluate and re-fashion healthcare delivery in Nigeria. We need to learn from the mistakes of the past and improve on our preparedness and response for existing and recurring plagues as well as prevent and effectively control other emerging outbreaks. New epidemics of the unknown disease will emerge in future, now is the time for Nigeria to use the experience of COVID-19 to prepare for the future. We must move from waiting till tomorrow to solve yesterday’s problem,” he added.
Joint Pioneer of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) in Nigeria and Medical Director, Medical Art Centre (MART) Maryland, Lagos, Prof. Oladapo Ashiru, told The Guardian that medical experts tried their best, just as the media houses were also very helpful.
He, however, underscored the need to have strategic protocols to combat the pandemic, starting with rapid response signals to port health, border control, screening, and closure if necessary.
A virologist and vaccinologist, Dr. Simeon Agwale, expressed worry that vaccine hesitancy could pose a serious problem for COVID-19 prevention, due to the spread of misinformation about the pandemic, especially in the social media. “People need to be reassured that vaccine development and clinical trials are closely monitored and regulated by a variety of entities, including independent bodies that review the trial protocol and data on an ongoing basis to ensure that the trial is ethical and should continue,” he said.
On Ghana getting COVID-19 vaccines before Nigeria, President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, said: “What do you expect? When we do not have enough budgets for health, we have abandoned our vaccine production plant. The issue is basically that of funding and logistics. We have the poor national budget for health care, weak logistics and inadequate infrastructure.”