The continuous spread of the Novel Coronavirus disease from Wuhan in China to 19 countries, with the death toll rising to 132, has created a new challenge for the Nigerian government, health officials and citizens. With Côte d’ Ivoire being the first African nation on the watch list, Martins Ifijeh writes on the need for Nigeria to step up preventive and management measures
With the world just only recovering from Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) outbreaks which ravaged many countries since March 2014, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia, killing at least 11,000 people in total, there seems to be a new cause for panic globally with the emergence of the Novel Coronavirus, an emerging disease outbreak from Wuhan city in China.
The disease, which is referred to as ‘novel’ because the virus and its effect on humans are not well known to science, has as at Tuesday, January 29, taken at least 132 lives, infected 6200 persons, and affected at least 19 countries across Asia, Europe and North America.
As the spread continues with resultant public health threats, countries not affected, including Nigeria have started to put measures in place to prevent its entry into their country, or in worst case scenario, manage the outbreak should it find its way in.
One of the several countries that have activated measures is Nigeria. It has heightened health security protocols in all airports across the country, especially international airports, and has issued travel advisory to critical healthcare stakeholders, primary health facilities and the public.
The world health body says a Coronavirus is a virus that causes infection in the nose, sinuses or upper throat, and can be transmitted from animal to human or from human to human just like the mode of spread of the dreaded EVD.
Although many may argue that the chances of the virus reaching Nigeria is around average because of the partial lock down on over 150 million persons in China where the outbreak is concentrated, same was said in 2014 when Ebola outbreak started, until it found its way to Nigeria, claiming eight productive lives, some $180 million in cost, and throwing the entire nation into panic.
With Nigerians known for their high trading partnerships with China, the virus is closer to the country than expected. But is our health security system strong enough to prevent the virus from entering the country? Is it strong enough to manage the virus should it find its way in?
To allay fears, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, in an exclusive interview with THISDAY , had said national health security measures were been heightened, especially at international airports, and that surveillance was also been mounted in all borders to prevent the spread.
He said: “If you screen anybody properly at the borders, check their travel histories and routes, it will help us a lot in ensuring the virus doesn’t get in.
“So far, we do not have plans to stop Nigerians from traveling to China or coming from China because there are international health regulations that must be followed on public health concerns. No country has done that.
“We have issued advisory to Nigerians, including states, public health facilities, as well as private facilities. This advisory is intended to be trickled down up to primary health facilities also, because they are actually closer to the people,” Ehanire said.
On his part, the Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu said currently, there was no known case of the virus detected in Nigeria, and that the federal government was however working very hard to be prepared in the event of an outbreak, as it was for precise events like this that the NCDC was set up.
He said: “Since the first cases were confirmed in China in earlier this month, we have been in close contact with WHO, the Africa CDC and other coordinating bodies. We set up an Epidemic Information Management Group that includes representatives from Port Health Services of the Federal Ministry of Health, WHO and other partners. This group meets daily to review the situation globally, assess the risks to Nigeria and provide recommendations for action.”
On whether the country has the capacity to address Coronavirus should there be an outbreak, Ihekweazu, whose centre is responsible for the country’s national health security, said Nigeria has improved in its JEE rating from 39 per cent in 2017 to 46 per cent in 2019, adding that it has worked very hard to ensure it is able to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks and public health emergencies.
He called on Nigerians to remain calm, noting that the Federal Ministry of Health and its partners were fully committed to strengthening the country’s preparedness and response to infectious disease outbreaks.
The minister of health said Nigerians should continue their normal routine of hand washing with running water, cover their mouths with handkerchief while coughing, and report early to hospitals if they notice fibril symptoms.
He said: “On our part as government, we are on 100 per cent alert. We will continue to make sure our international airports are adhering to the surveillance protocols we have put in place. As we speak now, I am in Kano International Airport to meet with our Ports Heath Service officials to monitor level of compliance.
“If we screen anybody properly at the borders, check their travel histories and routes and do the needful from there, it will help us a lot in ensuring the virus doesn’t get in. Nigeria is on full alert with the health ministry leading Port Health Services and the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC).”
Among guides released by the WHO, persons are advised to avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands; as well as avoid close contact with people who are sick.
On how to protect others for those with cold-like symptoms, they should seek immediate medical attention, avoid close contact with others, cover mouth and nose with tissue when coughing or sneezing, throw tissue in the trash after use, wash hands and clean and disinfect objects and surfaces.
Health experts believe there are currently no vaccines available against human Coronavirus infection. They also mentioned that there are no specific treatments for illnesses caused by human Coronaviruses, adding that most people with common human Coronavirus illness will recover on their own. “However, you can do some things to relieve your symptoms like taking pain and fever medications (Caution: do not give Aspirin to children) use a room humidifier or take a hot shower to help ease a sore throat and cough. If you are mildly sick, you should drink plenty of liquids, among others,” they recommended.
Already, 4500 people have been infected by the outbreak with at least 106 persons losing their lives; a development that has put health authorities around the world on their toes. So far, 17 countries have been confirmed to be affected by the spread including, Thailand, Japan, Nepal, United States, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, Cambodia, France, United Kingdom, South Korea, Germany, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Taiwan, and of course China where it originated from, thereby causing global panic.
In China alone, over 13 cities have been put on partial lock down, with most public facilities shut down, including airports, road and train transportation systems, markets, schools, among others. Over 150 million persons have been affected by this partial lockdown in China.
Australia has confirmed five cases of the virus. The most recent was a 21-year-old woman who was on the last flight out of Wuhan to Sydney before China imposed a travel ban. Cambodia confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the country on January 27. The patient was a 60-year-old Chinese national in the coastal city of Sihanoukville.
In Canada, a man who arrived in Toronto with his wife on January 22 after visiting Wuhan has been confirmed to have the coronavirus. The couple were wearing masks on their flight from Guangzhou and took their own transport home from the airport. His wife has also tested positive for the virus. Nineteen suspected cases being investigated by health officials are from Toronto.
In Hong Kong, eight people are known to have the disease, with hundreds of suspected cases reported.
In France, there are three known cases of the coronavirus. A 48-year-old France national who had traveled to Wuhn is in hospital in Bordeaux. Two others have been hospitalised in Paris, one of whom is a relative of one of the other infected patients in France. All three had recently travelled to China and had now been placed in isolation.
In Germany, the first case has been confirmed in a man in the Starnberg region. For Japan, at least four cases have been confirmed.
In Malaysia, four cases have also been confirmed in Chinese nations on holiday from Wuhan.
Nepal said a 32-year-old man arriving from Wuhan had tested positive for the deadly disease. The patient, who was initially quarantined, recovered and was discharged. The government said that surveillance has been increased at the airport “and suspicious patients entering Nepal are being monitored”.
The US has also confirmed five cases of the virus – two in California, one each in Arizona, Chicago and Washington State.
There are high indications that with Asia, North America and Europe affected, it is only a matter of time before a case is registered in Africa, and especially in Nigeria where the citizens are known for their penchants for travel, and coupled with the public knowledge that Nigerians have.
Although Wuhan’s international airport serves 104 destinations including 29 outside China, there are three direct flights a week from Wuhan to Heathrow, an airport often known for transit among many Nigerian or African travellers.
It therefore behooves on the Nigerian government, health personnel and the general public to collectively remain vigilant so that the virus does not find its way into the country.