Coronavirus: Nigeria’s preparedness
At least 565 people have been said to have lost their lives to the deadly Coronavirus since the virus resurfaced in December 2019, with the number of confirmed cases rising to 28,000 globally and several suspected cases being recorded daily.
Chinese officials had towards the end of 2019, informed the World Health Organization, WHO, of an unknown new virus causing pneumonia-like illness in the city of Wuhan.
They quickly determined that it was a coronavirus, a form of virus common in animals of all kinds, and sometimes can evolve into forms that can infect humans.
The new virus poses a pandemic threat as it has fast spread to 28 countries and territories, including the United States, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong and Britain.
As it is, the WHO estimates that each sick person is likely to infect between 1.4 and 2.5 additional people with the virus. However, public health experts around the globe are scrambling to understand, track, and contain the virus.
On its part, the Chinese government has also expressed its readiness to work with other countries to ensure an effective response to the outbreak.
The Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Zhou Pingjian, said that research was ongoing to discover drugs that could be used to tackle the coronavirus, adding that the geometric rise in the number of deaths as well as the spread of the disease was because the virus was a new disease and it took time before the people appreciated the gravity.
Pingjian recently told newsmen in Abuja that fighting the spread of the epidemic was a common concern of the international community and urged all countries to adopt a responsible attitude, work together to combat the virus, and avoid overreaction that may result in more negative spillover effects.
According to him, China has taken the most comprehensive and rigorous containment and mitigation measures and many of them go well beyond the requirements of the International Health Regulations (2005). He said that by doing so, China was not protecting only the health of its people, but also that of people around the world.
Though the virus has not been recorded in Africa, over 60 Nigerians alone are said to reside in the Wuhan city, the epic-center of the outbreak. A potential spread of the virus in Africa and indeed Nigeria, could be catastrophic because of the poor healthcare infrastructure in this part of the world.
Already the WHO has declared the outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, PHEIC, in order to protect countries with weaker health systems that are ill-prepared to deal with potential spread.
Though there is no record of the virus in Africa, there is growing fear that the disease could spread to the continent as business visitors’ travel to China and hundreds of thousands of Chinese troop out of the cities.
Many Chinese companies have strings of contracts in Nigeria, with most of the companies importing expatriates from China. Border security must be on red alert as we have gone through this road before, when the Ebola virus hit Nigeria as a Liberian diplomat imported the epidemic into the country.
Nigeria has announced the commencement of containment measures which include screening in-bound passengers for fever with special whole-body heat sensors, at ports of entry like international airports.
To prevent an outbreak of coronavirus in Lagos, the state government has launched an incident command system. The health emergency structure is being set up to help contain the virus if it breaks out in the state.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, while launching the incident command system, said the measure was not to stigmatise citizens of any country but a precautionary one taken in the interest of the people.
The governor hinted that relevant health professionals, in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Health, would be deployed to the Lagos International Airport for a higher level of monitoring.
Sanwo-Olu said that although the team expected people to be self- quarantined, the state government would carry out a supervised quarantine where details about immigrants would be taken at the point of entry while the team would do daily follow-ups through phone calls to identified individuals for a period of two weeks.
The federal government on its part assured that Nigeria has the capacity to detect, assess and respond in case the virus finds its way into the country.
The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, at a news conference said the federal government had voted funds to increase services of the ministry’s Port Health Services Unit.
On his part, the Information Minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the government only had travel advisories to issue but cannot ban travels. “Right now, we are working together at an inter-ministerial level to be able to contain the epidemic.
“What we will do is to give travel advisories that if it is not essential to travel to southeast China, do not make such trips. But you know it is very difficult to ban people from travelling,” he added.
Despite government’s assurance, some Nigerians are skeptical about this. Most of the doubt stem from the country’s inability to fight prevailing disease like malaria and Lassa fever.
Government hasn’t been creative enough to tackle Lassa fever, rather politicians and public officers seem to use the opportunity presented by the perennial epidemic to bleed the country dry.
The government therefore has the responsibility of rekindling the citizen’s hope in the system not just by words of assurance, but in actions. Nigeria cannot afford to be caught unaware, it is time to invest infrastructure development especially in the health sector.