Buhari Expresses Excitement at THISDAY’s Donation of COVID-19 Treatment Centre

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•SGF advocates collaboration in fight against pandemic
•Emefiele challenges Nigerian scientists on vaccine
•Facility a demonstration of extraordinary commitments, says Ehanire
•Obaigbena: It’s our responsibility to deal with current crisis
•It’s celebration of humanity, says Shonubi
•146 new cases, six fresh deaths raise tally to 4,787 infected, 959 discharged, 158 dead
•PSN kicks against Madagascar herbal mixture

Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Olawale Ajimotokan, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja, and Idowu Sowunmi, Martins Ifijeh in Lagos

President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday appreciated THISDAY Media and Technology Group, and its main partner, Sahara Group, for donating the world-class THISDAY Dome COVID-19 Testing, Tracing and Treatment Centre in Abuja to the federal government as part of their contribution to the effort to tame the pandemic.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, conveyed the president’s appreciation at the inauguration of the centre, saying the pandemic had brought a reawakening to both the government and the private sector to collaborate in the injection of the much-needed investment into the country’s health care system.

He also extended President Muhammadu Buhari’s sincere appreciation to the Chairman, THISDAY Media and Technology Group, Prince Nduka Obaigbena, and all his partners, including the Managing Director, Sahara Energy Group, Mr. Tope Shonubi.

However, 146 new confirmed cases of the virus yesterday brought total infections to 4,787. Although 959 persons have been discharged, 158 deaths have been recorded in 34 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

The 146 new cases are reported from 20 states, including Lagos 57, Kano 27, Kwara 10, Edo nine, Bauchi eight, Yobe seven, Kebbi four, Oyo four, Katsina three, Niger three, Plateau two, Borno two, Benue two, Sokoto two, Gombe one, Enugu one, Ebonyi one, Ogun one, the FCT one, and Rivers one.

At the event, Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, challenged Nigerian scientists at home and in the Diaspora to go back to their laboratories and develop a Nigerian vaccine as part of remedies to COVID-19.

Aligning with Emefiele, Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, called for all hands to be on deck to tackle the ‘’worst single public health emergency’’ of the generation.
Speaking before the centre was handed over to the Federal Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory Administration, Mustapha, who is also the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, said the disease had totally overwhelmed even the best of health systems in the world, describing it as a powerful notice to all developing nations to wake up.

“Today, we are witnessing the realisation of the synergy with the commissioning of this facility, which is designed to accommodate 300 beds and is scalable to 500. The speed and the commitment demonstrated by the partners that developed this infrastructure is a call to other private sector entities to also get involved in the development of public interest facilities.

“The PTF advocates strongly that lessons to be drawn from COVID-19 should, therefore, revolve around development, future planning, consensus building, collaboration and partnerships. Government cannot always do it alone. We must all be involved,” Mustapha said.

He also expressed happiness that the centre is one of the facilities, which is capable of providing care for persons living with disabilities who might get infected with coronavirus in addition to an intensive care unit for the treatment of the most severe cases of COVID-19 particularly levels 1 and 2 categories.

The SGF reiterated the appeal of PTF to all Nigerians to continuously comply with the guidelines especially in observing physical distancing, regular washing of hands, wearing of face masks/coverings, obey the curfew, avoid large gatherings and stay at home.

In his speech, Emefiele commended the management of THISDAY Newspapers and its partners for putting together the team that set up the magnificent care centre, which encompasses testing, tracing and treatment to help in boosting Nigeria’s capacity to adequately contain the spread of COVlD-19.

Praising the Buhari administration for taking measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, he described the impact of the virus on the global economy as an unprecedented effect.
He said: ‘’Institutions like IMF has pronounced that the effect on the global economy will be akin to the slowdown experienced during the Great Depression. Global growth is expected to contract to three per cent in 2020, down from a positive growth rate of 2.9 per cent in 2019, which is effectively a six per cent contraction.

‘’In Nigeria, our economy is exposed to triple shocks: a supply shock, a demand shock and a revenue shock. Permit me to state that we are currently faced with public health and economic crisis of unprecedented proportions, driven primarily by the 55 per cent drop in crude oil prices between January and May 2020.

‘’This unparalleled shock requires that the federal and state governments along with the organised private sector work together to address these challenges in order to preserve lives and restore economic activity and reset the economy of our dear country.”

According to him, in a bid to cushion the effects of COVID-19 on the economy, CBN implemented initiatives such as the intervention facility for small and medium scale enterprises affected by COVID-19, in addition to the N1 trillion facility for firms operating in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors.

He said the apex bank was working with financial institutions to enable the continuous flow of credit to viable businesses, while putting in place provisions such as moratoriums and restructuring of loans under CBN intervention funds provided to businesses.

He explained that the measures are to cushion the effects of the slowdown in economic activities on businesses, while putting them in better stead to help resuscitate economic activity in the country.

He said: ‘’I wish to acknowledge, however, that our ability to restore the growth of our economy is dependent on how we address the public health crisis brought on by COVID-19. It is in the realisation of this fact that CBN recently launched a N100 billion healthcare intervention fund.

‘’Practitioners in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors will be able to access finance at single digit rate through this fund. Our objective is to improve the capacity of our health system to address emerging public health challenges.’’

Emefiele added that CBN is developing a framework under which grants and long term facilities would be provided to researchers, science institutions and biotechnology firms to develop the Nigerian vaccine.

He warned that if Nigeria is to wait for foreign countries to develop its own vaccines, it would be the last in the queue to receive curative remedies for its teeming population.
‘’The Central Bank of Nigeria today challenges Nigerian scientists at home and in the Diaspora to go back to their laboratories and develop a Nigerian vaccine.

‘’Once validated by the health authorities, CBN will step in and do the needful for the sake of over 200 million Nigerians now confronted by COVID-19,’’ he stated.

He said the THISDAY Dome Testing, Tracing and Treatment Centre represents a part of the support being provided by the CACOVID alliance, adding that the measures would result in the addition of close to 4,000 hospital beds nationwide and would serve as a significant boost towards the country’s efforts at containing the spread of COVlD-19.

Demonstration of Extraordinary Commitments, Says Ehanire

Ehanire commended all the partners of the centre who demonstrated such extraordinary commitments in joining hands with the federal government to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which he likened to more than a war.

‘’This handing over ceremony of the THISDAY Dome Treatment and Isolation Centre to the Federal Ministry of Health and the Federal Capital Territory Administration is a landmark achievement in collaboration between public and private sectors to fight a common enemy and rescue our country and people from the grip of the raving coronavirus disease.

‘’The case for all hands to be on deck to tackle the worst single public health emergency of our generation has been well made. The nature of this virus makes the identification and isolation of infected persons and their contacts a public health imperative, the importance of which cannot be overemphasised and an expedient measure in the fight against the highly infectious pathogen,’’ the minister added.

Bello: FCT Close to Target of 1,000 Bed Spaces

The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Malam Mohammed Bello, expressed excitement about the inauguration of the centre, adding that the addition of the facility has now brought the territory to the target of 1,000 available bed spaces for the treatment of COVID-19.

He described the delivery of the centre as timely, coming a day after the FCT and its partners completed the isolation centre at Idu with capacity for about 500 beds.

‘’With this facility, the FCT has almost reached the target of 1,000-bed spaces. Within the FCT, we have in existence three treatment isolation centres, one of which was just handed over to us yesterday at Idu boasting of a 500-bed capacity,” Bello said.
He thanked Mustapha, members of his task force and all the partners for bringing to fruition the THISDAY Dome centre.

Outbreak Will Strengthen Nigeria, Says Aliyu

FCT Minister of State, Dr. Ramatu Aliyu, described the outbreak of COVID-19 as a worrisome development but an experience that would strengthen Nigeria.
She expressed optimism that health workers and all stakeholders who have been working tirelessly would ensure the contagion is defeated.

“But the FCT Administration is leaving no stone unturned to ensure the safety of all residents in the FCT. We are also not stopping at that. Besides, the rules and regulations being given, the administration will continue to intensify its advocacy, especially in the rural communities,” she said.

She urged the FCT residents to realise that their safety is guaranteed by staying at home, warning that a community could be infected if one person within that community contracts the virus.

It’s Celebration of Humanity, Says Shonubi

A partner in the centre and Managing Director of Sahara Group, Shonubi, described the centre as a celebration of humanity.
He acknowledged all Nigerians who gathered together in this period to feed the less privileged.

He noted that COVID-19 at the beginning was just first, a Chinese and later American problem before it became a global crisis.
He said he gained inspiration in pursuing the mission in March, after he was quarantined on his return from a business trip to Germany.

Shonubi praised Obaigbena for being unperturbed in the challenges to serve humanity.
He noted that they were rejected by many people they contacted on the project, who perceived COVID-19 as a thing that could destroy their businesses.

“But Nduka said it does not matter, this is for humanity. Today, we celebrate humanity. I also want to thank the FCT minister, who made this possible because everywhere we marched together looking for where we will put something. As time went on, we got to meet the people that mattered. I want to thank the Minister for Health, the NNPC,” Shonubi said.

Obaigbena: It’s Our Responsibility to Deal with Crisis at Hand

In his welcome address, Obaigbena said the centre was borne out of the efforts of all the partners in solving the current existential crisis created by COVID-19.

‘’THISDAY Dome has been here for many years. So, we thought we should make it available to fight this pandemic and we partnered with Sahara Group to put together a coalition which was led by CACOVID, NNPC, CCECC, CBN and others.

‘’We put together a collective effort to join hands with the federal government to deal with the crisis at hand,” he said.

Giving details of the facilities, he stated that the centre has four branches: a facility where citizens can test, treat and fix, and a 54gene testing laboratory with state-of-art molecular laboratory equipment which is ready to go.

The laboratory could handle 200 tests per day scalable and it does about 50 tests at the same time and because of paperwork and other documentation, it produces a result within 24 hours, he added.

He said: “We have the tracing App, which has been developed by our technology team. As you know, THISDAY is not just a newspaper outfit only; it is now a technology company. So, we have developers in Europe and Nigeria who have come out with this tracing App together.

‘’When you are tested, we can trace all your contacts with App and if you have requirements for isolation and treatment, there is Sahara ward and intensive care unit for you there. We have ICU beds, ventilators, medical waste incinerators; it has everything you need.

‘’So in this one facility, you can solve all the problems of COVID-19; and we thought that we should work with the federal government by making it available at no charge.’’
In his remarks, CCECC Managing Director, Mr. Michael Jiang, stated that the CCECC is committed to helping the federal government defeat the virus.

He noted that since the outbreak of COVID-19, CCECC has made donations to the federal government, adding that only yesterday, the company donated a 500-bed isolation facility in Idu area of the Federal Capital Territory.

Other dignitaries at the event included the Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva; Minister of State for Education, Dr. Emeka Nwajiuba; Minister of State for Health, Dr. Olorunnimbe Mamora; and Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mallam Mele Kyari.

PSN Kicks against Madagascar Herbal Mixture

Meanwhile, the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) has kicked against the importation of herbal medicine from Madagascar for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, describing the federal government’s decision as distasteful and disgraceful.

PSN President, Mr. Sam Ohuabunwa, in a statement yesterday expressed disbelief that the Buhari administration could jettison various attempts by scientists and researchers in Nigeria only to settle for Madagascar drugs.

The society urged the government to save Nigerian scientists from the shame of having to import and try herbal remedies when local alternatives are available.

He said: “While in principle, we would not mind the Nigerian government importing any new drug that is proven to cure COVID-19 or indeed any other disease for which we have neither the capacity nor the technology to produce locally, we are totally appalled that Nigeria is about to spend scarce foreign exchange to import ‘coal into Newcastle.’

“Even if we are not going to pay for this, it is thoroughly disgraceful that a country that should be the leader of Africa, with the largest GDP will allow itself to be dragged this low. Nigeria has about 174 universities (43 federal, 52 state and 79 private), 20 Faculties of Pharmacy and about 69 federal-funded research institutes (including National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development and the National Institute for Medical Research), while Madagascar has only six universities, one Faculty of Pharmacy and nine research centres!

“Nigeria has some of the best scientists (pharmaceutical, medical, biochemical, biological etc.) in the world who have done so much work on natural and herbal medicines. Nigeria has developed a pharmacopoeia of natural and herbal products and has one of the richest flora and fauna – potent sources of phytomedicines.

“Since the outbreak of the COVID-19, a number of them have raised their voices that they have herbal and natural products that can be used to treat or manage COVID-19. Some have patents. Many herbal companies and producers have announced specifically that they have herbal formulations that can do what this ‘invention’ from Madagascar can do.”
He challenged the federal government to give local formulations a trial.

FG Condemns Widespread Violation of Social Distancing Order

The federal government yesterday condemned the widespread violation of guidelines to contain the spread of COVID-19 across the country, particularly the social distancing order.
Speaking at the daily briefing by PTF, Mustapha noted that one of the primary responsibilities of the government is the protection of lives.

He said the citizens also owed it as an obligation to collaborate with the government and shun actions that would endanger lives.
He said he had seen visuals on social media where people in many areas violated the social distancing order.

The SGF said the task force would consult the authorities in those areas to review their enforcement strategies.
He charged governors to align their actions and enforcement measures to the guidelines stipulated by the federal government.

He reiterated the position of the federal government that states should stop the repatriation of the Almajiri because it violates the ban on interstate movements.

FG Warns against Danger of Sharing Masks

Mustapha also warned the public against the health hazards posed by sharing face masks or outright picking of masks for recycling from dump sites.
“It is very risky to share masks as the virus is capable of remaining on surfaces for several hours and you could get infected.

“The unhealthy practice of picking up disposed masks for whatever purpose is harmful to both the individual picking it and whoever procures it later,” he said.

The National Coordinator of the PTF, Dr. Sani Aliyu, lamented that large movements of people across state, borders were frustrating efforts at containing the pandemic.
Aliyu appealed to security agencies to stop interstate movements except for essential services.

According to him, PTF would review performances at the end of the week to know the next steps to consider.

FG Investigates Unexplained Deaths in Bauchi

Ehanire, at the press conference, said the ministry had sent a team to Azare in Bauchi State to investigate the causes of unexplained deaths in the place.
He explained that the ministry has activated a total of 25 laboratories for COVID-19 tests nationwide.

He added that his ministry has printed the mandatory institutional quarantine guideline and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) crew kit for returnees from the diaspora.

He also said the Benue State’s index case, Mrs. Susan Okpe, had insisted that she would only allow her samples to be taken by officials of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the results sent to the United Kingdom for verification.

The minister said he had instructed the response team sent to Bauchi to invite pathologists from the affected states such as Sokoto, Bauchi, Katsina and Jigawa to come to Kano for training on how to proceed with the investigation of the similar occurrence of strange deaths in their area.

“They are to develop protocols on how to carry out the medical investigation in the areas where the report has been made. As I speak to you, the team is in Azare, Bauchi State looking into the causes of unexplained deaths there,” he said.

Ehanire also gave an update on the NCDC team expected to visit Cross River State to help understudy the situation in the state, which currently has no reported case of COVID-19.
The minister said he had reached an agreement with Cross River State Governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, on how the response team would collaborate with state health officials to carry out its assignment.

On the ongoing investigation of strange deaths in Kano State, Ehanire said the exercise was proceeding well, adding that
stringent scientific procedures are being adopted to eliminate any margin of error in the outcome.

WHO Meets African Traditional Medicine Experts

WHO yesterday said it had met with 70 traditional medicine experts from Africa in a bid to find a cure for the pandemic.
WHO Africa Region, in a tweet yesterday, said an agreement was reached with the herbal medicine experts on clinical trials of their remedies.

The meeting is coming days after Madagascar said it found a herbal remedy capable of curing the disease.
@WHOAFRO tweeted: “70 traditional medicine experts from countries across #Africa held a virtual meeting with @WHO on the role of traditional medicine in the #COVID19 response.
“They unanimously agreed that clinical trials must be conducted for all medicines in the region, without exception.”

Madagascar President, Mr. Andry Rajoelina, had criticised WHO and other international organisations for allegedly scorning local “remedy” for COVID-19.
“If it wasn’t Madagascar, and if it was a European country that had actually discovered this remedy, would there be so much doubt? I don’t think so,” he told French media in an interview.

Before the meeting, WHO had repeatedly warned that the COVID-Organics infusion, which Rajoelina has touted as a remedy against the deadly virus, has not been clinically tested.
WHO also stated yesterday that some treatments appeared to be limiting the severity or length of the COVID-19 disease and that it was focusing on learning more about four or five of the most promising ones.