Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
As Nigeria grapples with the challenge of a looming threat of third wave of COVID-19 hitting the country, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and a renowned professor of Virology and infectious disease control, Prof. Olawale Tomori, have cautioned the federal government not to allow complacency to stall measures being taken to check the outbreak of a third wave of COVID-19 pandemic, stressing that averting the scourge goes beyond just issuing travel advisory.
They noted that the most important steps would be the enforcement and implementation of the measures put in place.
They however commended the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 on the recently issued international travel advisory and the re-introduction of restrictions, all aimed at averting the third wave of the infection.
NMA’s President, Prof. Innocent Ujah told THISDAY at the weekend that the federal government should ensure adequate enforcement and monitoring of the measures it recently announced to check the importation of a more deadly variant of COVID-19 virus from other countries.
“I want to say that NMA is very happy and we commend federal government for taken proactive steps to respond to the threat of a third wave of COVID-19 pandemic, by issuing timely health advisory regarding those passengers coming from Turkey, India and Brazil.
“This is a very commendable effort because this is what we had advocated for early in 2020 shortly before COVID-19 came in, that we should close our borders so that we don’t have any importation of the virus, but unfortunately before they did that, it was late and therefore many of our people got infected. However, this time , the advisory note issued by the federal government is very important and NMA commends it,” he said..
The NMA boss spoke on the aspect of the travel restrictions contained in the government’s COVID-19 health advisory, describing it as good decision.
He, however pointed out that the authorities should not stop at that but should ensure that the recommended health protocols be strictly enforced to make the response effective.
“What we need is strict enforcement and monitoring so that anybody coming into the country must be made to go through a protocol and then be quarantined and if tested positive, kept in isolation centre.
“This requires strict monitoring because science monitoring. When they monitor and discover that many people coming in, test positive then they can effect a travel ban to those countries.
On the suggestion that government should go further to impose outright travel ban on countries proven to be witnessing resurgent spread of COVID-19 pandemic, Ujah said NMA would go for a systematic approach that would be based on correct analysis of the present situation.
“We need to systematically follow the issue because COVID-19 has socio-economic consequences. So, I think we should be very careful and be able to enforce the health protocols – for instance, ensuring that people take precautionary measures such as putting on facemasks and observing social distancing”.
When asked about the prospect of revamping the vaccine production factory in Nigeria, Ujah said it was a good plan.
He expressed optimism that with the setting up of the joint venture facility between May and Baker and Bio-vaccine, NMA believed the country was on verge of establishing the local vaccine manufacturing facility.
“It is important for the federal government to do something to revamp the vaccine production company in Yaba, Lagos State so that Nigeria can be able to produce vaccines locally.
“Nigerians are talented and hard-working and all they need is encouragement,” Ujah said.
While reacting to the delay in actualising the resuscitation of the vaccine factory, Ujah said that the problem may be due to lack of confidence by foreign partners and the security situation in the country.
“We need to build confidence. Nigerian government should be able to provide a conducive environment; the security situation must improve because nobody wants to invest in a country where there is violence, kidnapping, maiming, Boko Haram, and armed robbery. These are some of the things that probably may be making other countries to be hesitant to come and partner with us . But you see, partnership and collaboration is what we need if we are to reestablish and reactivate vaccine production in Nigeria,” he said .
While supporting NMA’s position, Tomori said the problem with the country’s efforts to check the spread of COVID-19 virus were that of poor compliance and poor enforcement of the health advisory.
Tomori told THISDAY that whether the country would relapse into another wave of COVID-19 pandemic or not would depend on how the people cooperate with government to maintain non-pharmaceutical protocols.
He said: “We do not have the third wave yet. but it may come. Government has done the right thing by this selective targeting of activities likely to contribute to the spread of the disease. It is now in our hands to make sure we do not allow the virus to spread.
“Through our carelessness and disregard of non-pharmaceutucal interventions, we got the second wave. If we continue, the third wave is sure to come”.
While assessing the measures rolled out by the federal government, Tomori said the steps were good but needed to be embraced by all the citizens for it to be more effective in checking the spread of COVID-19.
“For now, the measures are okay. The need for additional measures depends on whether we, the citizens collaborate with government in adhering to the guidelines or not. We should get involved and play an active role by encouraging and ensuring the participation of every citizen.
“The government has already suspended flights from some countries. I am sure the situation is being monitored by the government,” he added.