•Warn of tougher days ahead
Contributors at a forum organised by Arise TV Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers, yesterday lauded Nigeria’s management of COVID-19 but warned the federal government not to rest on its oars.
The panelists, comprising health practitioners around the world, among others, alerted the federal government that tougher days were ahead and how it would handle the next few weeks would determine whether or not Nigeria would be able to flatten the curve and halt the spread of the virus.
Among the contributors were the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire; an entrepreneur and contractor to Obama’s White House, Mr. Alex Lightman; Commissioner for Health, Lagos State, Prof. Akin Abayomi; Emeritus Professor, Chinese University, Hong Kong, Siam Griffiths; and Chairman, ANAP Foundation, Mr. Atedo Peterside.
Lightman described the country’s management of the pandemic as more organised than that of the United States.
Speaking during the global briefing on COVID-19, tagged: The Pandemic; the Frontlines, the Impact and the Road Ahead, Lightman said it took the US President Donald Trump thousands of confirmed cases before issuing a lockdown but that with less than 100 cases, the Nigerian government had done what was needed in halting the spread of the pandemic in any country.
He said: “I watched President Muhammadu Buhari’s broadcast and I think the two-week lockdown he declared in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun State is a very smart move. Nigeria is smarter than the US because we had thousands of cases before we had a lockdown. If we did this on time, things would not have been this bad in the US.
“The lockdown in Nigeria is a game-changer. If people adhere to social distancing and stay at home, the virus will not spread. This virus is a game of function, and one of the best ways against it is to halt community spread,” he added.
Abayomi said the pandemic in Lagos was expected to surge in the coming months following community spread of the virus.
He said although the predominant cases were imported, the state had started seeing community spread of the disease, describing this as the real problem.
He said: “We know person-to-person transmission is what we will now battle. That is why we have now changed our strategy, which includes ensuring people stay at home, maintain social distancing and imbibe hygiene practices like hand washing.
“So far, none of our patients has come down with serious symptoms of COVID-19. They are either asymptomatic or are having mild symptoms. It is only a matter of time before we start having serious cases, so we are preparing. We are putting all the necessary health equipment in place to address this.
“We expect to see a few thousands of cases in a couple of months. You can see we are preparing isolation centres, we are training our health workers and volunteers, and we are putting our healthcare in order so as to absorb the expected surge. If we eventually move past this stage, we will commence a different strategy.”
Abayomi clarified that Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week, was not being managed in Lagos but in Abuja.
Griffiths, who was one of the experts on the show, said Nigeria had a lot to learn from Wuhan City on how they tackled the spread through social distancing and lockdown.
She said: “While it is good to ask people to stay at home as part of measures to halt the spread of the disease, the Nigerian government needs to put strategies in place to make the lockdown effective. This is going to have an economic impact on the people.
Those who are self-employed will struggle to survive. The government needs to put in place adequate support for the vulnerable groups, and then ensure there is free healthcare, among others.”
She also warned that Nigeria must do its best to protect healthcare workers. “They should get personal protective equipment so they don’t become the infected too,” she added.
Ehanire said so far the ministry had tested over 1,000 persons for COVID-19, adding that going forward it was increasing the number of cases tested.
He said: “We are very responsive. We want to be as fast as possible in interrupting the spread of the virus so that the pool of infected people does not increase beyond control.”
Peterside, said although the federal government had locked all borders, the measure came a little late.
He said: “We know Nigeria presently has low cases, but I am afraid this may be because we are not testing people enough.”
The Co-founder, the Premier Specialist Medical Centre, Dr. Abiodun Aluko, said government should include in its preparations, how to protect health workers who are on the frontline interacting with persons infected by COVID-19.
She said: “There is a sense of urgency right now. Every minute someone is coming in contact with persons they shouldn’t be coming in contact with. Our health workers are seeing people who ordinarily should be COVID-19 patients because these people walk up to the hospital to seek treatment. But when we check their travel history, we find out they may be exposed to COVID-19, so health workers need to be protected.”
An Internal Medicine Practitioner, Dr. Yemi Johnson, said although COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, studies had shown it could also affect the heart.
He said: “So far, Nigeria has not recorded the high figures we are seeing from Europe and the US, but I have studied the timelines. People get very sick from the third week. That is the week we are now in Nigeria, fortunately, we are doing very well.”