Upon inauguration in March 2020, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 was tasked to primarily control the pandemic by interrupting viral transmission, reduce the risk of the health system being overwhelmed due to increased demand; and minimise mortality among the most vulnerable parts of the population. In achieving these three-pronged objectives, Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the recent extension of its mandate over the upsurge in number of infections is still a call to duty
When the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 was inaugurated, the task before them was broken into three parts- interrupting viral transmission, reducing the risk of the health system being overwhelmed due to increased demand; and minimising mortality among the most vulnerable parts of the population.
With backing from the presidency, legislature, state governors, ministries, representatives of the network of partners, the PTF kicked off its mandate and had over the months tackled the pandemic with relevant health ministries, departments and agencies. The first mandate was for six month but they got an additional three months extension.
At the end of the three months extension in December, the presidency once again extended it to another three months in a bid to tackle the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic.
Giving account of the first nine months in office,
in his submission at the PTF end of the year report on COVID-19, the Chairman, Boss Mustapha, who also doubles as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), said the taskforce led the execution of interventions geared towards achieving epidemic control of COVID-19 in Nigeria since March 2020, when it was inaugurated.
Giving a breakdown of the objectives why the taskforce was set up, Mustapha said the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, which is championing Nigeria’s COVID-19 response, has been driven by science and data, adding that it was designed to achieve three primary aims of epidemic control by interrupting viral transmission, reducing the risk of the health system being overwhelmed due to increased demand; and minimising mortality among the most vulnerable parts of the population.
The other objectives he added include “the reinvigoration of our nation’s health system, infrastructure and manpower to enable Nigeria conveniently confront any future outbreak and also build her potentials for medical tourism which has been a source of foreign exchange and brain drain over the years”.
With the successes recorded in the first six months, the taskforce’s mandate was extended for another three months. According to Mustapha, “the operations of the PTF have been driven through out the initial six months and the extended three months mandate, by a multi-sectoral process which facilitated expansive and indepth consideration of issues as well as speedy decision making.
“The process enjoyed the overwhelming support of the partners from the private sector and the international community. Through these partners, Nigeria was able to put in place critical infrastructure nationwide, procure scarce medical equipment, test kits, and personal protective materials, etc.”
Not solely restricted to the medical and scientific aspect of the countering the pandemic, the PTF was also able to deliver palliatives to Nigerians in the various states. For transparency, two web portals sponsoredby the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) and the UNDP were opened for the tracking of resources mobilised from all sources. Similarly, a national register of resources mobilised has been created and remains under constant updating, he added.
Stating that the end of the year report represents the state of the National Response as at the end of nine months of hard work, he stressed that it remains work in progress because COVID-19 has not abated.
“Countries of the world including Nigeria, have been experiencing a second wave of infections which has proven to be more virulent. This, the report being presented has captured for posterity the strategy adopted, the resources mobilised and committed, achievements recorded, lessons learnt and it represents a useful roadmap for a national response, should emergencies occur in future.”
Giving the presidency, legislature, the Nigeria Governors Forum, the National Economic Council, the security agencies, the private sector coalition, the international community, all frontline workers and indeed all Nigerians, its due, the chairman said the PTF recorded achievements in funding, healthcare, development, infrastructure, human capacity development, communication and social welfare.
In the report, Mustapha said while there were challenges, the lessons learnt were also sacrosanct. He cited the lessons to include- the immense benefits derivable from multi-sectoral collaboration to address issues; effective communication with Nigerians ; Under emergency conditions, well rounded consideration should be given to all sectors; our health sector would require major reforms and must be pro-active; and economic sustainability, recovery and preservation of lives and livelihood remain critical at all times.
Others include-structured data collection, analysis and retrieval remain critical for effective governance; the phenomenon of evacuation of citizens from all over the world should become a significant policy issue for government; across board several public sector rules, practices, systems and some statutes require review/revision to effectively respond to extreme emergency situations; there is need to urgently establish a dedicated fund to address all pandemics and outbreaks; and the significance of building on the synergy established with the private sector, the National Assembly and the sub-national entities.
Recalibrating for 2021
Noting that the year 2020 has been very significant to humanity, the chairman noted that “as we approach 2021, therefore, the PTF is recalibrating to enable it respond in a more effective manner to the new dynamics thrown up by the pandemic as a result of the new wave of infections and the arrival of vaccines.
“Nigeria is now facing a rise in confirmed COVID-19 daily cases nationwide – similar to the second wave of infections occurring in other countries across the world. The new epicentres are Lagos, Kaduna and the FCT accounting for over 70 per cent of all confirmed cases. This is a major challenge that must be addressed.
“Accordingly, the PTF is implementing your authorisation to engage with and provide advisories to States, to take full responsibility for several control measures aimed at addressing the new development across the nation. I wish to report that some state governments have already taken necessary action.
“ In 2021, major decisions will be taken on the issue of vaccines. The PTF as part of its mandate, is working in a coordinated manner to ensure that Nigeria is able to access and deploy vaccines in a safe, effective, timely and economically prudent manner.”
Thanking the president, legislature, partners and heroes (the Nigeria workers) for effectively supporting the national response, he stressed that the virus has not abated but is still raging across the world. “We have to overcome the pandemic fatigue, intensify risk communication, expand surveillance, testing and infection prevention and control,” he added.
Given the work ahead, especially with the second wave, President Muhammadu Buhari recently extended the mandate of the PTF on COVID-19 “for a further period till the end of March, 2021, bearing in mind the new surge in the number of cases and the bid for vaccines”.
Buhari, who made this disclosure while receiving the End-of-Year Report of the task force, said “recent reports reaching me indicate that Nigeria is now facing a rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases nationwide which is similar to the second wave of infections occurring in other countries across the world.
“New epicentres have been identified and the nation cannot afford to lose the gains of the last nine months. I have critically evaluated the situation and remain convinced that urgent measures have to be taken to halt the spread and the attendant fatalities.
“Closely associated with the foregoing is the need to speedily and strategically access and administer the COVID vaccine in a safe, effective and timely manner. This is an important obligation that we owe Nigerians as we go into year 2021 and it must be carried out through an efficient machinery.”
He added that “the nation is clearly in a perilous situation given the virulent nature of this second wave and we must act decisively to protect our people. I therefore urge all sub-national entities, traditional rulers, religious and leaders of thought to collaborate with the PTF by taking up the responsibility for risk communication and community engagement at all levels. Now is the time for collective efforts to be intensified.”
With this new mandate, the task force has its work cut out for it, especially in the light of the recent upsurge of COVID-19 cases, said to be a mutation of the first wave.