What if there is no COVID-19?

Guest Columnist: ISSA AREMU


It is a trite to ask: “What if there is no COVID-19”?
This question, of course, lacks freshness precisely because we are into the seventh month of the global pandemic.
The world (possibly, minus ever denying Bolsonaro’s Brazil and Donald Trump’s USA) is brazing up for the second wave of the notorious pandemic.

I agree with Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, the Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that contrary to the fairy tales from Kogi and Cross Rivers states, no corner of the globe is immune from the pandemic.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman, Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha had further raised the noise level of the Virus spread. And with attendant hysteria too! According to him “the country might start to count bodies in their hundreds in the next three weeks following the spread of coronavirus in the country.” With an alarmist Presidential Task Force (PTF) Chairman like Boss Mustapha, it’s purely academic to ask “What If There is no Covid-19? .

The plague is already leading humans to mass graves with survivors in captivity of face masks and mobile sanitizers. More than ever before “A dry cough is the trumpeter of death!”. And that is the issue! My interest in national and global response to Covid-19 is purely academic. The recent global frenzy has confirmed the old saying that “health is not valued until sickness comes” .

The 1999 constitution with all its limitations, underlines the importance of public health, safety and public welfare for nation building. Section 14. (1) of the Chapter II dealing with the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy says (b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government: and that (c) the health, safety and welfare of all persons in employment are safeguarded and not endangered or abused; d) there are adequate medical and health facilities for all persons:

Section 17 envisages that the National Assembly may make laws for the Federation or any part thereof with respect to –
(a) the health, safety and welfare of persons employed to work in factories, offices or other premises or in inter-State transportation and commerce including the training, supervision and qualification of such persons;”

In addition, the “Right to life” is alluded to 18 times in the constitution. Scores of proposals to reinvent public health at 2014 National a conference is still gathering dust. Are we then saying that without COVID- 19, our concerns about right to life and public health would remain scandalously muted as it had been for decades?
Better still, without COVID-19, couldn’t we be alarmed that Nigeria records over 300,000 deaths per year due to Malaria which unlike COVID -19 has a cure?
It is gratifying that Nigeria is now Wild Polio Virus Free. One can imagine the trauma of paralyzed children as long as the Virus inflicted havoc. It is a credit to Buhari administration for eradicating the scourge through adequate funding and mass immunization campaign.

There are recorded confirmed 9 million Coronavirus cases globally. This pales into insignificance compared to an estimated 100 million malaria cases annually in Nigeria. What is good for polio is desirable for malaria. A disease known, should be half cured. In terms of numbers Malaria is a pandemic no less than Coronavirus is an epidemic. Of course, it is not yet Africa’ world. WHO might not lose its “breadth” because Malaria reportedly contributes to an estimated 11% of maternal mortality in Nigeria?

There are so far 500, 000 COVID -19 related deaths globally . Nigeria records as many as 215,000 deaths per year from HIV/AIDS, half of COVID -19 fatalities.
There have been 7000 reported recovery cases of Coronavirus in Nigeria, can NCDC avail the data about how many malaria and HIV/AIDS recoveries? Whence the Presidential Task Forces on Malaria and HIV/AIDS? Talking about the right to life, according to 2018 Global Status Report on Road Safety, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated road traffic fatalities in Nigeria at 39,802, while the estimated rate per 100,000 deaths stood at 21.4. Whence the lock down, sorry knock down, on avoidable human “accidental” haemorrhage? The Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) reported last year that an average of about 12 people died daily last year due to recorded 8,527 road traffic crashes (RTC) across the country.

What massive graves “swallow” these Nigerians compared to mass graves that await the COVID- 19 victims as hysterical Boss Mustapha raised an alarm?
Don’t get me wrong! It is not COVID- 19 deaths versus Malaria and HIV/AIDS deaths. I don’t have the Executive luxury of Governor Ganduje of Kano state who attributed mass deaths to anything but CORONAVIRUS. “Death expectancy” is not divisible. Or better still, it matters less what negatively impacts on life expectancy; whether it is severe acute respiratory syndrome or HIV infected blood. Mass deaths are mass life subtractions with negative impact on productivity in a developing economy like Nigeria.

Certainly, the drafters of the 1999 constitution envisage all -inclusive public health and safety from malaria as much as from a global pandemic. It is good that Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, confessed as much that his exposure at PTF “has given him a better opportunity to champion reform and transformation of the Nigeria health system”.

It’s now time to work the new reform agenda. The minister for Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu has said no single city enjoys pipe borne water in Nigeria for 24 hours. So much for the rural areas!

Yes, Nigerians are expected to hand wash to prevent Coronavirus spread. President Muhammad Buhari has commendably signed Executive order Executive Order 009 in 2019 entitled, The Open Defecation-Free Nigeria by 2025 and Other Related Matters Order. Many states are yet to build toilets in schools and public places as millions still defecate in open places with threats to public health.

It is commendable that CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, had commendably announced a N100 billion healthcare intervention fund following the outbreak of the Virus under his strategic vision of “Turning the tragedy of the pandemic into opportunities”.

For those who care, CBN governor had long seen tomorrow well before COVID: 19. In promoting import substitution through development financing, CBN removed some 42 imported goods from the list of items valid for Forex Exchange in the Nigerian Foreign Exchange Market according to which , “importers who import these goods can no longer buy foreign currencies from the official windows (CBN, Commercial banks) to pay their suppliers abroad. Rather, they will have to look for forex(dollars, pounds etc.) from the parallel market or Bureau De change to pay for their imported goods” .

CBN’s credit support facility for the health sector will definitely help pharmaceutical companies and healthcare to expand and build capacity for all times and for all diseases not just COVID-19 .
We don’t need a pandemic to put an end to local health challenges whose impact in terms of lives and livelihoods are even more devastating.

Emefiele puts it better (and I agree!): “I believe we must now envision and work towards a Nigeria with the cutting edge medical facilities to provide world-class care to the sick and vulnerable, enable our universities and research institutions to provide the requisite education and training that is required to keep these ecosystems functioning sustainably and efficiently, and millions of Nigerians employed in meaningful and well-paying jobs.
This is the Nigeria that we must aspire to build.”

*Issa Aremu is a Member National Institute Kuru Jos