COVID-19 in Nigeria: Between courage and fear By Adegbenro Adebanjo

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The steep rise in the rate of infection of Corona Virus, COVID-19, in Nigeria is troubling and even the most lion hearted should be worried. A month ago, precisely March 24, 2020, there were 42 confirmed cases and one death. A month after that date there were 1095 confirmed cases with 32 persons recorded as dying from exposure to the virus including the Chief of staff to the President Mallam Abba Kyari. The rise, according to experts managing the country’s response to the virus, that has crippled the world, is worrisome but not unexpected. They claim that more tests across the country and better contact tracing are partly responsible for this.

To be sure there have been some bungling and tardiness here and there in Nigeria’s response to the debilitating virus that has killed many across the globe. And of course some behavior akin to self-immolation or self-destruct acts. One can point to the irresponsible behavior of some of our compatriots who deliberately hid their status from care givers and advertently caused a spike in the rate of infection. The Offa, Kwara incident readily comes to mind.

A man who arrived form a trip to one of the epicenters of the disease returned home and was in self isolation. When his situation got worse, his family got a “bigman” to take him to the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital. There they told caregivers that he ate pineapple and had problems with his digestion. He was admitted to the general ward and exposed to caregivers, workers and patients. The man eventually died. A whistle blower familiar with the man’s antecedents eventually opened a can of worms. By this time the deed had been done and some innocent persons had been infected through the exposure to the index case. A similar incident happened in Ado Ekiti.

We also have cases of persons going for treatment in private hospitals, and endangering the lives of others through non-disclosure of their status and travel history. In Lagos some private hospitals have been closed due to exposure to patients of COVID-19. We have also been told that some persons are refusing to stay in isolation after testing positive. This is very dangerous as their integration back into their communities could signal unmitigated disaster. And those encouraging and actually aiding and abetting mass gathering in the name of religious activities are not helping matters. They are also culpable in the rise of the disease in Nigeria.

However, the rise in cases shouldn’t lead to fear and despondency. It should be a wakeup call to all and sundry to tackle this clear and present danger. Nigeria needs concerted efforts and determination to ensure that the right things are done by all those connected with the battle against this virulent disease. The Governments at all levels must take the lead and the people should follow. The people, yes, you and I are part of the fight against COVID-19. We are all in this together. To stave off the tragedy that has been seen in even developed countries including the US, we must all work together to battle COVID-19 to submission in Nigeria. Nigeria’s best bet is to slow down the rate of infection and ensure that it does not become a pandemic here. If the United States, United Kingdom, Italy and Spain with better health care facilities are overwhelmed one can imagine the fate of Nigeria if COVID-19 gets out of hand.

The Federal and Lagos State governments have shown good leadership in deploying men and materials to fight this virus. Other state governments should take a cue from them and do whatever is necessary to win this battle. Yes it’s a war situation and the Federal and State Governments Task Forces must keep their eye on the ball. The frontline health workers must be given all they need including protective gears. The government that has directed that health workers should not treat patients without protective gears should provide that equipment. Those who test positive and are refusing to report at isolation centres should be made to do so through the force of the law.

The Federal and State Governments should reassess the lockdown strategy and distribution of palliatives. Lockdown will not work when the people have nothing to fall back on. A hungry person is more likely to venture out of his home to look for means of sustenance. Tentative palliative measures cannot work in a country with very weak social safety and security net such as Nigeria. The government must strike a balance here. Some persons have postulated for a Nationwide dusk to dawn curfew with massive education on social distancing, compulsory wearing of face mask while allowing minimal business activities in the informal sector at certain hours during the day. The order banning mass gathering should also be firmly enforced without any exceptions. Testing and building of health facilities should be ramped up. These measures could allow, following certain parameters, the informal sector to begin to run and skeletal services at the formal sector.

The general populace must adhere to strict hygiene including hand washing, social distancing and other preventive measures. Everyone must support the process. We must all be on the same page on this irrespective of our social standing, religious belief and party affiliation. Those who are sick and suspect that they may have been exposed to COVID-19 must do full disclosure to the authorities and health care givers. And the purveyors of fear inducing fake news on COVID-19 must stop the evil enterprise. Generation of fear about the disease should not become an industry in Nigeria.

It’s clear that the disease is not a death sentence and this can be seen through the number of persons that have successfully beaten the virus in Nigeria. We have more people whose positive status have turned negative after concerted care and treatment by our redoubtable health care providers who have continued to show resilience and commitment in spite of many obstacles like inadequate Personal Protective Equipment, PPE , dilapidated Heath care facilities and other odds.

Together we can beat and defeat COVID -19. To achieve victory, we need Courage and strict policy formulation and implementation, not fear and despondency.

Adebanjo, a media and communication specialist, sent this piece via [email protected]

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