Success from the jaws of disease with PTF-Covid19

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THE PUBLIC SPHERE with Chido Nwakanma

With 96 per cent tracing success while activating 71 laboratories to conduct tests nationwide, the scorecard of Nigeria’s six-month intervention in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic is outstanding. It is one of the many that make up the African success story that has baffled Western experts and analysts. The results and backing data do not surprise the team at the Presidential Task Force on Covid19 admirably led by Mr Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

Data from PTFCovid19 was a soothing balm listerning to the dirge that was the presidential address on October 1 and the general gloom around the day. The data is mostly positive. The PTF Covid19 framework revolves around four pillars of Trace, Test, Isolate and Treat.
The Nigerian incident numbers climbed to 59, 001 on 1 October 2020 almost getting to 60, 000 to mark our 60th birthday. There were 50, 452 recoveries and 1, 112 deaths. The global picture shows there were 34.2m cases worldwide, 23.7m recoveries and 1.02m deaths. PTFCovid19 reported 7, 437 “current cases”.

Our country’s figures disappointed the doomsayers that predicted blood on our streets while speaking of Africa. They based their prognosis on the fragile state of Africa’s health systems. What an expectation!
The country has confirmed cases in 37 locations, that is the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Confirmed fatalities represent 1.9 per cent of the total.

Twenty-seven (27%) per cent of cases are persons in the 31-40 years age bracket. Males constitute the bulk of persons with the disease, with 37, 001 patients or 64% while females at 21, 177 represent 36 per cent.
Nigeria has quickly scaled up its medical response and facilities. PTFCovid19 has deployed 43 State Rapid Response teams. There are 71 activated laboratories for covid19 testing, and they collectively should ensure 12-24 hours testing time frame on the average.

Success has many fathers and multiple consequences. One of the effects of Nigeria’s success with managing Covid19 is the growing nonchalance that citizens display. It is almost hubristic as Nigerians outside the Lagos-Abuja-Port Harcourt triangle go about their businesses as if Mr Covid19 never visited these parts. Where they show concern, they are also confident that Nigeria can now tackle the disease.

The attitude is an uplifting departure from the pall of fear that enveloped the country following the first case of an Italian identified as positive for Covid19 in February 2020. The nation joined the rest of the world to go into high gear concerning the pandemic. Enter the Presidential Task Force on Covid19.
PTF Covid19 took off on 17 March 20120 with a formal inauguration by President Muhammadu Buhari. In conjunction with the National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, it enabled the Federal Government to approach the disease in a “guided, systematic and professional” manner.

NCDC is the primary driver of Nigeria’s response to the viral infection.
Boss Mustapha chairs the PTF-Covid19 that has 14 high ranking officials. Nine ministers, two Director Generals as well as the country representative of the World Health Organisation in Nigeria, make up the membership. Dr Sani Aliyu is the National Coordinator and member of the PTF Covid19.

Health, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Aviation and Humanitarian Affairs ministers are members of PTF-Covid19. Other ministers are those of Education, Information and Culture, as well as the Ministers of State for Health and Environment. The DGs are those of the Department of State Services and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
The principal remit of PTF Covid19 is “to develop a workable National Response Strategy” that takes “international best practices but adopts them to suit our unique local circumstances”. Boss Mustapha, chairman of the PTFCovid19, stated at the inauguration on 17 March that the task force would work on five key deliverables. It would do so within an initial six-month timeline.

The deliverables of the task force are to strengthen the national response strategy in testing, containment and management of COVID-19, strengthen the collaboration among all tiers of Government, the private sector, faith-based organisations, civil society, donors and partners, and build awareness about the disease. Others are to direct the deployment of relevant national assets, as necessary, and lay a foundation for scientific and medical research to address all emerging infectious diseases.

A Mid Term Report surveyed over 120 respondents. They scored the PTF above average and very good. The areas of strength were that PTF
• Provided a coordinated national response effort to the COVID-19 pandemic
• Provided COVID-19 preventive guidance and awareness to communities
• Established adequate mechanisms to mobilise resources for the COVID-19 response
• Coordinated the mitigation of the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on Nigerians
• Developed and implemented guidelines on the different phases of the response to the pandemic (e.g. ban on interstate travel, wearing of face masks, limited gatherings etc) across the country

Coordination is the robust suite of the PTFCovid19. It has managed successfully the efforts to bring all stakeholders to a standard table to tackle the national emergency. They include States and Local Governments, health sector stakeholders, as well as players in the private sector as well as development organisations. Effective coordination has earned the confidence and trust of all partners..

What has Mustapha’s Task Force done in real terms? They can claim success in many broad areas, key of which include providing and leading the policy focus for the management of the pandemic. It developed a multi-sectoral Response Action Plan to guide Nigerian response through high-level engagement with the Organised Private Sector for better coordination of their core competencies and expertise, mobilisation of State and Local Government resources in preparation for the possible spread of the disease into communities and needs assessments and preparedness of the states. They also engagd local manufacturers for the stimulation of local production of essential commodities to reduce the dependence on imported commodities as well as Local production of face masks, hand sanitisers, protective gear etc.

A key failing remains the fact that with all the funds available to it, PTFCovid19 did not deliver to Nigeria one world class hospital. However, its many successes speak well of the intervention.