Udora Orizu writes that the move by the Presidency to invite Chinese doctors to help fight COVID-19 received some kicks from opposition lawmakers
The team of Chinese medical experts may have arrived Nigeria last week for a one-month visit to help in the country’s fight against COVID-19, but the invitation to these Chinese experts by the Federal Government was stuntly opposed by opposition lawmakers.
Before the arrival of the Chinese doctors, there were clear signs of division in the House of Representatives as the legislators across party lines held different views on the need to invite the doctors.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, at a recent meeting between the leadership of the House and the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, and the Minister of State for Health, Dr. Olorunnimbe Mamora, gave the support of the legislative arm to the decision of the Federal Government to allow Chinese doctors into the country.
The Speaker said the meeting was convened following widespread complaints that trailed the announcement of the coming of the Chinese medical personnel to assist Nigeria.
He, however, said that the Chinese medical personnel must undergo the necessary checks as provided by Nigeria.
Gbajabiamila said the measure became necessary as precaution and to allay fears expressed by many Nigerians.
He said, “There are a lot of complaints about why we are bringing in Chinese doctors. It is incumbent on us, as lawmakers, to intervene, following the concerns of our constituents to understand the issues and get the right information to them. Our duty is to protect the Nigerian people, and every opportunity to increase our knowledge will not be thrown away.”
“Having listened to you, what we are taking away from this meeting is that Nigeria needs this intervention from the Chinese, but you have to make it mandatory that they observe all the protocols laid down for the disease. As you explained that they won’t have direct contact with Nigerian patients, you have to make sure that they go through our official immigration laws, they have to get work permit waivers because they are coming here to work.”
Gbajabiamila further said that the doctors have to be quarantined for 14 days as stipulated by the protocol, adding that the ministers should educate Nigerians about this to avoid misconceptions.
Also recently Gbajabiamila during a meeting on the update on COVID-19 between the leadership of the National Assembly and the Presidential Task Force (PTF) said the House will monitor the activities of the Chinese medical personnel that came into the country.
The Speaker inquired from the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire about the whereabouts of the Chinese medical personnel and if they were subjected to the laid down protocol of the disease.
He said, “This engagement is to see how we can make things better. The Chinese medical personnel, are they coming to upgrade our laboratories, are you accepting them? Who are the technicians that have been running the Kaduna and Kano laboratories before now? Where are the Chinese personnel as we speak? How are you sure that the Chinese company responsible for this arrangement is complying with your directives?”
Responding, the Minister of Health, Ehanire, told the House leadership that Nigeria did not officially invite the Chinese team, but that it was an offer arranged by a group of Chinese companies based in Nigeria as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) to Nigeria.
He said that being a novel disease that every country is trying to understand, Nigeria will benefit more from the gesture because the existing health facilities and personnel in Nigeria to tackle the disease are inadequate.
On his part, Minister of State for Health, Mamora, emphasized that the Chinese personnel are mainly experts in molecular laboratory testing, where we have only two indigenous experts currently serving seven laboratory centres.
He said the Chinese doctors are expected to help in setting up molecular laboratories around the country as well as upgrade and reconfigure existing ones in the country.
He assured that the Chinese medical personnel would not have direct contact with Nigerian patients but would only help to reconfigure the laboratories and train Nigerian personnel and experts on the management of the disease and operation of the equipment and upgraded laboratories.
But in a statement issued last week, the Minority Caucus in the Green Chamber, kicked against the decision of the Federal Government to bring in Chinese doctors.
The leader of the Caucus, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, warned that bringing in medical personnel from the epicentre of the dreaded disease would expose the nation to further danger.
He stated categorically that Nigerian doctors and nurses are doing well so far in managing the scourge, but expressed fears that bringing in Chinese medical personnel, whose status, intentions and scope cannot be easily ascertained and controlled is totally against the national interest.
The caucus therefore called on the Federal Government to immediately rescind its decision and jettison all plans to bring doctors from the hotbed of the plague into the country at this critical time.
Elumelu said, “The Federal Government should note the apprehensions of Nigerians and professional bodies including the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) over the decision. Bringing in Chinese medical personnel, whose status, intentions and scope cannot be easily ascertained and controlled is totally against our national interest.”
The caucus noted that this is particularly after alleged escalation of the pandemic in certain countries after Chinese doctors were reportedly involved, in addition to widespread trepidations over the safety of medical equipment and kits from China at this point in time.
The minority leader stressed that at such critical time, the safety and wellbeing of the citizens must be paramount and anything that is capable of further jeopardizing their lives must be avoided.
Speaking to THISDAY, an APC lawmaker reacting to the decision, took sides with the government while the PDP lawmaker was against it.
A member representing Bende Federal Constituency in Abia state, Hon. Benjamin Kalu (APC), opined that this aid from China was a desperate propaganda tool to redeem the image of the Federal Government, however, he said that there was nothing wrong with China helping other countries, including Nigeria.
Kalu stressed that now that China has gained the upper hand in containing the Coronavirus, the importance of shared technical and medical knowledge in a time of crisis such as this cannot be overstated.
He said, “You know that there have been several accusations against the Chinese government for an alleged suppression of information and slow response that enabled the virus to grow and spread from Wuhan, China to the rest of the world. However, over 80,000 infections and 3,000 deaths later, they were able to get a grip on the situation and have since then been offering help to other embattled countries including Italy, Spain, France, Iran and Iraq and a number of European countries.”
“While we are allowed as a sovereign nation to exercise caution with regard to this assistance, let us also not forget that the capacity to rapidly test large numbers of suspected cases is very vital in the fight against coronavirus.”
“The FG has assured us that the Chinese Medical Personnel invited and sponsored by Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC) as part of their CSR are mostly molecular lab experts who will have no direct contact with Nigerian patients and are only here to share knowledge as well as assist in the setting up of molecular lab testing in various parts of the country.”
“In such a time of panic, uncertainty and easy dissemination of disinformation and conspiracy theories, I will caution Nigerians not to have a “Cold War” mindset to China’s offer to help. Instead, the responsible thing to do as a nation is to ‘cautiously accept’ this assistance of technical knowledge, especially since our health ministers have complained that there are currently only two Nigerian molecular experts in the country.”
“I also suggest that in addition to ‘cautiously’ accepting the help from China, this is the time for the Federal Government to recall all Nigerian molecular experts currently outside the country to help with the fight against Coronavirus and to closely watchdog and monitor China’s assistance with the establishment of molecular labs around the country ensuring that no foul play is done. The Chinese medical personnel must also be subjected to a 14-day quarantine and testing before being allowed to provide their assistance.”
“This exercise must also be done in close partnership with the Nigerian Medical Association whose members have performed efficiently in the frontlines of the fight against this pandemic. They must be involved in every step of working with the group of medical personnel from China. You should thank the presidential joint task force for the good job they are doing and appreciate the Lagos state Governor as well as my Abia state Governor for the steps they have taken so far against this virus.”
On his part, another lawmaker representing Mbaitolu/Ikeduru Federal Constituency in Imo state, Hon. Henry Nwawuba (PDP), expressed concerns that the government may not have gathered enough local Intel before reaching out for help.
He said the reason behind any assistance will be that the country’s medical personnel are stretched and struggling and that is not the case yet in Nigeria.
“I stand with NMA on this issue. While I understand the concept of uniting against this pandemic, The chinese doctors can offer assistance through shared knowledge management platforms or other forms of information exchange matrix to start with. Nigerian doctors are considered amongst the best in the world and if our doctors are calling for an inclusive model that sees them fully engaged in the fight against COVID-19 then I fully support them.”
“In any case I believe the outbreak of the pandemic in Nigeria is yet to stretch our doctors. From the pace of the current outbreaks and fatalities so far recorded in Nigeria I dont think our medical human rescources have reached a breaking point. Our prayer is that the growth rate flattens out and begins to nose dive sooner than later,” Nwawuba added.
This exercise must also be done in close partnership with the Nigerian Medical Association whose members have performed efficiently in the frontlines of the fight against this pandemic. They must be involved in every step of working with the group of medical personnel from China. You should thank the presidential joint task force for the good job they are doing and appreciate the Lagos state Governor as well as my Abia state Governor for the steps they have taken so far against this virus