As the Chairman, Presidential Task Force on the Control of the Novel Coronavirus, the job before the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, is daunting, writes Shola Oyeyipo
At no time in recent history of mankind has the human race been so gripped with fear, even the periods of the first and second world war inclusive.
This raging pandemic, COVID 19, which started gradually in Wuhan, China last December, is ravaging the world – claiming lives across nations as both the new and conventional media are reporting the growing statistics of deaths on hourly basis.
Considering the grave dangers of this virus, which is yet to have any precise cure, countries are assigning credible individuals with track records and abilities to manage the situations to man the anti-Coronavirus taskforces – to put in place countermeasures that could mitigate the spread and save as many lives as possible.
US President Donald Trump had also appointed Vice President Mike Pence to coordinate government’s response to the coronavirus. Likewise, in Nigeria, the federal government inaugurated a Presidential Task Force on the control of Coronavirus chaired by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha.
The multi-sectoral and inter-governmental taskforce inaugurated on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, was necessitated by global trends on the outbreak of the virus spreading like wildfire. So, the global concern is how to stop the spread of the virus.
Director-General, World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in his opening remarks at a media briefing on COVID-19 on March 25, 2020 rightfully noted that “The pandemic continues to take a massive toll not just on health, but on so many parts of life.”
Though he reassured the world that humans had overcome many pandemics and crises before and that this would not be an exception, he however underscored the fact that already 16,000 lives had already been lost while the number was still climbing.
“We know we will lose more – how many more will be determined by the decisions we make and the actions we take now.”
So, the task before the Mustapha-led task force, which comprises the Ministers of Health, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Aviation, Humanitarian Affairs Disaster Management and Social Development, Education, Information, Environment, Minister of State for Health, the Director-General, Department of State Security (DSS); Director-General, National Centre for Disease Control and WHO representative in Nigeria, is enormous and precarious.
One of the reasons is because Nigeria has a population of about 200 million people. An escalation of this virus among this population could spell doom, not only for the country but the entire Africa and the world at large.
This is because tracking contact would be difficult if not impossible and providing healthcare to the sick will be extremely tasking hence the best option before the Nigerian Coronavirus taskforce is to curtail it and prevent further spread.
Second, while there were already reports that some top government functionaries had begun to test positive to the virus, at the time of filling this report, Nigeria had recorded over 51 confirmed cases of Coronavirus, six of whom had recovered and one dead.
Chief of Staff to the President, Alhaji Abba Kyari, had also tested positive for Coronavirus, the Bauchi State Governor, Mr. Bala Mohammed had reportedly been diagnosed with coronavirus and was in quarantine. The Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi recently wrote on his twitter handle that he has gone into self-isolation after taking the Coronavirus test, the same way as the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello. The same way, former Commissioner for Sports in Ogun State, Hon. Bukola Olopade self-reported his positive result.
This is why the Nigerian Coronavirus response team must be commended for reporting the first index case within 48 hours of the Italian’s arrival in Nigeria and the updates coming from the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) have been essential in revising the country’s public health advisories.
Important steps however needed to be taken before the situation eventually gets out of control. Like most other countries, Nigeria should enforce social distancing. Countries like Italy, China, Spain, America and many others around the world are locked down. Nigeria must do same, because many who have contacted the virus are asymptomatic and may have spread it.
Though Nigeria banned international flights and had locked down locally, it still allowed local flights across the country to function till very late. This should have stopped earlier than it did! Air passengers hardly practice social distancing, and this could further spread the virus.
The stay-at-home order must be total. Security forces, including men of the Nigeria military should be deployed to enforce a stay at home order, particularly among religious bodies flouting the directive on maximum number of people in a gathering. All social gathering must be put on hold.
Though the NCDC, with the support of other partners, had upgraded four of its reference laboratories to diagnose Coronavirus, more must be invested in laboratory diagnoses of Coronavirus. It is in ability to diagnose infected people that adequate care could be given.
Government must continue to expand its surveillance capacity to follow up on the infection, track contacts and hospitalise the critically ill.
The importance of providing valuable information and enlightenment to the citizenry cannot be over-emphasised at a time like this. The National Orientation Agency (NOA) and other relevant bodies must reach every corner of the country to educate the locals on the virus.
Funds must also be provided for researches to develop a cure for the virus, while government must give former chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Maurice Iwu, necessary support on his possible cure for coronavirus.
Tough decisions must be taken. Nigeria can take a cue from other countries, where the Federal Reserve slashes interest rates by half a percentage in an attempt to give, for instance, the US economy a jolt in the face of concerns about the coronavirus impact. It is the first unscheduled, emergency rate cut since 2008, and it also marks the biggest one-time cut since then.
The US Senate has approved a $2 trillion stimulus package for its people and the House lawmakers are also putting finishing touches to the bill; Iran temporarily freed 54, 000 people from prisons and the Government of Japan and the International Olympic Committee took a difficult but wise decision to postpone this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games.
It is therefore expected that Nigeria will come up with fiscal and monetary measures to deal with the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak and cushion the effects on the people.
However, Many, including the likes of Nigeria Director for the ONE Campaign, Serah Ugbabe fear that Nigeria’s public health system as it is, is under-resourced and overwhelmed, resulting in poor health outcomes and vulnerability to outbreaks.
“While the country had a successful response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, it has struggled with ongoing outbreaks of Lassa fever and Yellow fever, neither of which are contagious like coronavirus. Nigeria saw nearly a three-fold increase in the number of confirmed cases of yellow fever in 2019 compared to 2018. These struggles further underline the need for urgent action to bolster Nigeria’s public health systems,” she said.
Commending the NCDC Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) approach against Ebola in 2014, she observed a major flaw in a critical component of IDSR, which is the neglect of primary health care, saying “With over 30,000 PHCs in Nigeria, they should be invaluable to outbreak response, stretching into rural and urban communities alike.”
She, however, bemoaned the fact that the government estimated in 2017 that only one in five PHCs are functional, stressing that “This represents a glaring hole in Nigeria’s IDSR strategy.”
Ugbabe therefore urges government that, “As we deal with the entry of coronavirus into Nigeria in the short term, it is vital that we consider how to better protect citizens in the medium to long term. Thankfully, the policy framework for a robust national outbreak response system in Nigeria is in place.”
In the final analysis, safety is everybody’s business, so your safety is your personal responsibility. Everybody must personally ensure they avoid the virus like a plague that it is.
Stay at home, maintain social distance, clean your hands with soap or sanitizers as often as possible, isolate yourself if you have symptoms, get tested and get treatment. That’s the way to survive the virus.