Covid-19: FG to Unfold Guidelines on Use of Face Masks

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* NCDC to activate laboratories in Kano, Kaduna, Jos, Maiduguri

By Onyebuchi Ezigbo

The federal government will in the next 48 hours approve a national protocol for the use of face masks by Nigerians as a means of containing the spread of Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking at the media briefing by the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19 on Monday, the Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said that the centre will Tuesday unveil protocol for the use of face masks by Nigerians.

While giving an update on the activities of the centre, Ihekweazu said the draft protocol for the face mask was ready but remained to be synchronized.

“I did say we will release a policy on face mask this week. That policy is almost completed. In fact, the draft is being looked at by various colleagues to ensure that they were all aligned. By tomorrow or next, we shall be releasing that policy for all of us to align with,” he said.

The NCDC boss also gave an update on the number of laboratories to be added to its network, saying that four more testing laboratories each in Kano, Kaduna, Jos and Maiduguri will be activated between Tuesday and Thursday.

Also Monday, the federal government came up with more explanation on the mission of the 18-man Chinese medical experts being expected to arrive the country.

The news of the invitation of the Chinese doctors by the federal government had attracted criticism from some stakeholders in the health sector including the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).

Speaking at the press conference by the presidential taskforce, the Minister of hHealth, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, said the Chinese medical team will be coming to help augment government’s efforts at building capacity to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

He said the medical team will share their knowledge, skills and real-life experience of fighting Covid-19 with Nigerian personnel to strengthen management of COVID-19 cases, especially with regard to critical care.

To further allay the fears of Nigerians over the health status of the Chinese team, Ehanire said that all those included in the team will have to be fully screened and be made to undergo health regulations governing the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This initiative will greatly build the capacity of hard-working and resourceful Nigerian Health Care Workers at the forefront of fighting coronavirus. The much needed PPEs and masks will protect our front line workers and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the line of duty.

“We have a window of opportunity to strengthen our own response mechanism through lessons learned from any country that has had the experience and can provide hands-on demonstration of dealing with the outbreak and give the Nigerian clinical workforce the opportunity to share global best practices,” he said.

In addition, the minister gave more details of the composition of the Chinese team, saying that they are made up of medical experts, comprising doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians and public health managers.

Ehanire said the donation by Chinese companies in Nigeria included “personal protective equipment (PPEs), medical consumables, over 1 million surgical masks for health workers and even ICU ventilators, valued at over $100,000, all sourced in the face of global scarcity of these items”.

He said: “On Friday, 3rd of April 2020, I announced that an 18-man team of Chinese medical experts is expected to arrive Nigeria in a few days with a consignment of globally scarce medical supplies, to augment government efforts and build capacity to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.”

The minister also said that the United Nations group has donated medical equipment worth $2 million, adding that the first batch of the package will arrive Nigeria Tuesday.

Ehanire however said that even though all these donations will ensure that the country has enough of what it needs in the foreseeable future, there is still need for local manufacturers to prepare to fill the gap in the long term.

The minister said that as part of efforts to ensure that the nation does not lose the gains made in the health sector, the federal government would continue to support states in strengthening their preparedness and response to COVID-19.

On updates about the Covid-19 pandemic, Ehanire said: “Over the weekend, we recorded 42 new cases, bringing to a total of 232, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria. They are in 14 states and the FCT as at today, 6th April, 2020. We have recorded five fatalities in total, all with underlying ailments.

“We have 120 patients in Lagos State, 47 in FCT, Osun 20, Oyo 9, Edo 9, Bauchi 6, Akwa Ibom 5, Kaduna 5, Ogun 4, Enugu 2, Ekiti 2, while Ondo, Rivers and Benue have one each.”

The minister said a total of 33 patients have been discharged from treatment adding that that over 5,000 samples have been tested so far, and that the officials were working hard to scale up capacity.

He stated that as part of measures to ensure that those on isolation do not suffer mental stress, the NCDC has introduced a mental health protocol which include some entertainment to keep them relaxed.

On the continental front, the minister said Nigeria was working with the African Union to develop a continental response.

According to Ehanire, a joint continental strategy for COVID-19 response has been developed and an African Task Force on Coronavirus (AFCOR) has been set up to coordinate preparedness and response efforts in the continent.