Have you heard any of these statements before? They did not even give me any medication yet they said I had COVID-19. What they treated me for was malaria. Patients at isolation centres in Nigeria are eating, drinking and dancing while patients in other countries are on ventilators. If indeed there is coronavirus disease in Nigeria, how come the death toll is so low? As soon as they say they have discharged 20 patients, they announce 20 new cases. Is this not a ploy by government officials to steal money? And so on. Today, I will tease out some easy-to-use facts and information for those who genuinely want to know about COVID-19. Politicians and cynics can look away now.
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses are identical children of the same father. They have “crowns” covering them. (“Corona” is the Latin word for “crown”.) SARS-CoV, one of the siblings, was responsible for the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that broke out in 2002 in China. It spread to 26 countries, infected some 8,000 people and killed 770. The Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) started in Saudi Arabia in June 2012 and killed 912 of the 2,494 confirmed cases. SARS-CoV-2, the latest addition to the family, is the one that has unleashed COVID-19 on the world. In all, there are seven known siblings in the family.
We are here to talk about SARS-CoV-2, the youngest coronavirus. COVID-19, the disease it causes, has so far infected more than 5.3 million humans and killed over 340,000. A virus is not considered a living organism: it is typically not a cell (the simplest unit of life that reproduces itself and multiplies independently of other cells). But the coronavirus can get a “life” if it can enter the human body, hijack a cell, attach itself to the cell, steal its ingredients, imitate the genetic language and begin to multiply in billions. Imagine that a kite does not have an engine but when you fling it into the wind, it imitates an aircraft and starts soaring. That is how the virus behaves in our cells.
How do humans catch the coronavirus? Allow the virus particles enter your mouth, eyes or nose and it will do the rest of the job. That is why doctors keep warning us not to touch our faces with unwashed hands. You can catch the virus by touching infected objects or surfaces and then touching your face. You are also at risk if you come in contact with droplets (saliva, mucus) from an infected person when they talk, shout, cough, sneeze or spit. That is why you need a face mask and physical distancing. People effortlessly catch the virus in crowded, enclosed spaces such as public transport, aircraft, gyms, worship centres and offices. Infected droplets are easily spread in crowded spaces.
Now this is the good news. If your immune system — that is, the police officers that fight diseases and strangers in your body — is very strong, the coronavirus will be a big-time loser. It will be arrested on arrival. It will not be able to multiply in your body. You know, the armed robber has been nabbed by the police officers right at your gate. But if you are tested and you are positive, you may have to go into isolation for observation and also to protect other people from being infected. But, like HIV, you can transmit COVID-19 without showing symptoms. This seems to confuse those who think they must be coughing and rolling on the ground before they can infect others.
Someone says: “I was told I tested positive for COVID-19 and I was placed in isolation. The doctors did not give me any medication throughout. They tested me again after some time and said I am now negative and I can go home. Scammers!” I would advise you to praise the Lord rather than moan and start propounding conspiracy theories. I said it already: it means your immunity was strong enough to fight off the virus. You tested positive because you were infected. They did not give you any medication because you did not have any symptoms and did not need any treatment. They told you to go home because after another test, the virus is no longer “active” in your system.
One weird fact is that some will have the virus and never know — because they didn’t have any symptoms. Also, some will have cough which they will treat with the regular syrup. They may never know they once had COVID-19! In both cases, only an antibody test can confirm that the coronavirus visited them once upon a time. And so, you ask: “If the coronavirus could be this harmless, why the mass hysteria?” Well, it kills those whose immune systems are already compromised by other pre-existing diseases. And, really, if you don’t know you have a serious ailment, such as the coronary heart disease, why risk your life? Why not shame the devil by keeping safe?
Let’s be clear: there is no cure for COVID-19 yet. Only the symptoms caused by the virus are treated. According to WHO, the most common symptoms are: fever, dry cough and tiredness. The serious ones are: difficulty breathing, chest pain and loss of speech/movement. The less common: aches, pains, sore throat, diarrhoea, conjunctivitis, headache, loss of taste/smell, skin rash, or discolouration of fingers/toes. The virus is NOT a disease. Because it weakens your immunity, what doctors treat are the symptoms. For instance, you may have malaria parasites hiding somewhere in your suppressed system. Malaria may show up. Doctors will treat the malaria. It’s not COVID-19.
However, it will be disingenuous of you to say paracetamol is the cure for COVID-19 because it cured your fever, or chloroquine is the answer because it cured your malaria, or antibiotic drugs are the solution because they cured your sore throat. This goes for all the other claims that garlic, lime, Vitamin C, Vitamin D and the rest are the cure for COVID-19. What they do is boost your immunity or attack a particular ailment that COVID-19 has allowed to manifest in your body. They are not cures in themselves. A friend said recently that because a patient who has breathing problems is placed on oxygen and he recovers does not mean oxygen is the cure for COVID-19. That’s a perfect example.
Nevertheless, there is a psychological value in taking lime, garlic and all that stuff if you are infected. Doctors call them “placebos”. They may be equal to drinking just water, but it makes you believe you are applying some treatment and your mind is telling you the treatment is working. More so, these things may have medicinal value and help take care of mild to moderate symptoms. Like if you have common cold, they tell you to eat pepper soup and use one medicine or the other. What you get is relief, not cure. There is a joke about catching the cold virus: if you use medication, the illness will last for seven days; if you don’t use anything, it will last for one week. It must run its course!
How does COVID-19 kill people? When the armed robbers came calling, the police officers were overpowered or too weak to defend your house. That is, if you have any serious ailment, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, heart problems, kidney issues, severe asthma, and severe high blood pressure, your body’s immune system can be overpowered by the virus. The police officers will become helpless. Since the virus takes over the cells, this weakens your immunity. You may require intensive care as the virus attacks your lungs. You may need a ventilator. It is people in this category that usually die. While COVID-19 can infect any age, the old and the sick are the worst-hit.
Why are there not many COVID-19 deaths in Nigeria compared to several other countries? One Nigerian-born “nurse” in the US recently submitted her own contribution to the conspiracy theory by saying there is no coronavirus in Nigeria because many people are not dying. Her argument is that more people should die. Actually, based on the state of the health sector in Nigeria (and Africa), some people projected that there would be millions of death. But take away North Africa and the fatality is relatively low. No African country is burying hundreds per day. Nonetheless, I would rather ask scientists to help us find out why instead of relying on some random WhatsApp nurse.
My hunch is that our bodies are more battle-ready in Africa. We may underrate our diets but they are rich in nutrients that build the immunity. Also, our exposure to epidemics, malaria and a plethora of immunisation probably prepared our bodies better to confront the virus. But for some resilience, the fatal cases might have been overwhelming for us. Scientists should also help us find out. They should also help us understand if Africa’s temperature and humidity might have had an impact in slowing the virus. Various experiments have demonstrated that the virus survives for a particular length of time under certain temperatures and humidity. Over to you, dear researchers.
Will we ever find a cure? Unlike HIV, the coronavirus is probably no longer harmful after an infection. Research is still on. If this is confirmed, it means your body develops the antibodies and you cannot be infected again. Vaccines are also in the works to help our bodies fight the virus. Let us hope that sooner than later, the vaccines and drugs will be available. While we wait, please keep safe: boost your immunity, observe personal hygiene and use a face mask. Please note that the face mask is to cover your nose and mouth at the same time so that you won’t inhale (or spread) virus particles. The mask is not for your mouth alone. It is not for your chin or neck. It is NOT a bandana!
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
Any keen observer of Nigeria’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria must have realised a major missing link: central coordination. Most states are doing what they like. Some governors are even exercising powers that they don’t have, such as closing state borders. Some will close worship centres today and re-open them tomorrow. It is so haphazard. Someone said it is “true federalism” at work and I think this is ridiculous. An epidemic of this proportion is a national emergency. President Buhari should have declared it so from day one in order to take full charge, adopt a common strategy and prevent this chaos. It is within his constitutional powers. Baffling.
We’ve had erratic ministers in this country, but Sale Mamman, the minister of power, is heading for the zenith at the speed of light. On Tuesday, he sacked Usman Mohammed as the managing director of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN). In December, he fired Marilyn Amobi, as MD of the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company Limited (NBET). He also ordered the indefinite suspension of Damilola Ogunbiyi, now former MD of Rural Electrification Agency (REA). Both were later reversed. Could it be that the man does not know the meaning of his title, “minister of power”? Honourable Minister, it means “electricity” — not “might” or “bully”. Shocking.
Did you hear what Senator Ibrahim Gobir (Sokoto east) said on the floor of the senate on Tuesday? In case you missed it, Gobir said soldiers from Niger Republic moved in to Sokoto state to fight bandits after the Nigerian military abandoned the place. “The situation in Sokoto east as far as armed banditry is concerned is pathetic and tragic because it is only the Nigerien army that has been coming to their rescue while the Nigerian army looks the other way round,” he alleged. I have been waiting for the military authorities to deny this massive indictment but, so far, there has been none, to the best of our knowledge. Should we start getting more worried than we are already? Terrifying.
My attention has been drawn to my inaccurate claim, last week, that in the entire north, Kwara and Kogi are the only states where Hausa is not the language of doing business, otherwise known as lingua franca. Pardon me for the slip: Benue state is also an exception. Thanks to my colleague and editor of The Nation, Adeniyi Adesina, who was the first to draw my attention to the error early Sunday morning. He did his national youth service in the old Benue state. I also need to make clear that in Adamawa state, Fulfude — the Fulani language — is the lingua franca, along with Hausa. In Borno, as well, both Kanuri and Hausa are widely spoken side by side. Clarified.