Amid reports of countries around the world relaxing COVID-19 restrictions the Commissioner for Health in Lagos State, Professor Akin Abayomi has sounded a note of caution to Nigerians warning that the threat of the pandemic still looms high.
This admonition was given during a panel discussion helmed by leading health maintenance organization, Avon Healthcare Limited (Avon HMO) at the maiden edition of the Nigerian-British Chamber of Commerce Conference and Exhibition.
Moderated by the company’s CEO, Adesimbo Ukiri, the panel was an assembly of leading healthcare experts brought together to discuss the topic: “Healthcare in Nigeria – Beyond the Crisis.”
Alongside the health commissioner, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr Ifedayo Adetifa; Medical Director/CEO, First Cardiology Consultants, Dr Adeyemi Johnson and the Founder/CEO of Doctoora, Debo Odulana, were also present to offer their perspectives on what lies ahead for the country’s health sector, two years after the COVID-19 virus was first discovered in the country.
Responding to a question about whether Nigeria can toe the line of countries like the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Indonesia and others, Professor Abayomi said the low rate of vaccination in the country remains a cause for concern.
“The countries that you are referring to are close to, or already 100 per cent vaccinated. Some are even over a 100 per cent vaccinated with boosters while some are even going into double boosters. We have five per cent of our population vaccinated so unless there is some genetic protection that we have, Nigeria and Africa remain the opportunity for the virus to do what it knows how to do best.”
The Commissioner however acknowledged that while the crisis phase of the pandemic may be over, the state of healthcare in the country necessitates continued vigilance to prevent surges in COVID-19 infections, even as things go back to normal.
“Covid is not over, but I believe the crises should be over. Our role as the government is to ensure that we balance the public health response with maintaining the economy of the nation. The virus is looking for opportunities to spread all the time and if it finds a community that is unprepared, either in terms of a public health response or in terms of boosting the immunity of its people, it will circulate within that population.
“Our health systems were nowhere near what they have in Europe and America and yet we could see that their health system broke down. So, if we had the same kind of disease profile in Nigeria or sub-Saharan Africa, it would have been a devastating outbreak for us,” he added.
To this, the panelists affirmed the need to remain conscious of the threat posed by the virus. For Adesimbo Ukiri, Nigerians can’t afford to let their guard down even as they go about their daily socio-economic activities, while Dr Odulana noted that continuous awareness of safety habits should remain a priority.
“It is important for us to adapt the behaviors that will protect us. We need to keep masking up, washing hands and practice crowd control as best as we can. There is still a lot of work as regards behavioral change that should go into dealing with the virus.”