Many Nigerians were gripped with fear when Lagos confirmed a case of new coronavirus at the wee hours of penultimate Friday. The news stimulated memories of anxiety generated six years ago when West Africa’s Ebola epidemic hit the busy megacity.
Prior to the importation of the dreaded disease, many had asked; Is Nigeria prepared for an eventual outbreak of Coronavirus (Convid19) in the country? The Federal Government had assured citizens that it is prepared to combat the deadly Coronavirus in the advent of an outbreak in the country and urged non-stigmatisation of infected persons should the case arises.
Mr Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), at a one-day sensitisation programme on the spread of Coronavirus and Lassa fever noted; “We have been informed by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that they have set up their response centres and mounting surveillance. Medical personnel have also been put on standby to attend to any emerging issue.”
He stressed further; “What we are doing today is the responsibility of management to create awareness within our workforce. The issue of stigmatisation should be reduced to the barest minimum. No fiction, no rumours, science and facts are what we want to deal with.”
However, some experts are worried about the Federal Government’s response to the Convid19 infection in the country and have identified gaps which could be huge problems in the face of an epidemic like in the index country, China.
But, others gave kudos to the Federal Government stating that the NCDC and the Federal Ministry of Health have done very well in equipping and mobilising a network of coordinating laboratories to undertake prompt laboratory analysis of blood specimens from suspected cases and laboratory diagnosis of same. However, they stressed the need to increase the number of laboratories and containment facilities across the country.
Commenting, Dr Godswill Okara, Registrar of West African Postgraduate College of Medical Laboratory Science (WAPCMLS), said; “The leadership of the NCDC and the Federal Ministry of Health have done very well in equipping and mobilising a network of coordinating laboratories to undertake prompt laboratory analysis of blood specimens from suspected cases and laboratory diagnosis of same. It is a very commendable effort indeed.”
In an interview, Okara said; “While commending Federal and some State Governments on the ongoing effort and response, it would be desirable to increase the number of laboratories and containment facilities across the country to curtail the need for suspected cases to travel far from their place of residence for testing and quarantine.
“The psychological impact of travelling out of one’s locality to Lagos or Abuja for testing and isolation might be part of the factors preventing the remaining contacts from coming forward to be tested. This again underscores the imperative of developing laboratory personnel, infrastructural facilities and diagnostic capacity across the three tiers of our health system,” he added.
He also noted that though the Port Health Services have proved equal to the demands of the moment, they need to beef up the number of personnel, especially at land borders.
Okara further said; “There is an obvious infrastructural gap. There is only one or two Level 3 Biosafety Laboratory in Nigeria for handling the analysis of specimens involving high-risk pathogens. The one in Lagos, I understand was donated by the Canadian Government.
“We have the money in this country to put world-class facilities in place. Be the level 3 or level 4 Biosafety Laboratories, or containment facilities. But, what you hear every day is the diversion of public funds by government actors charged with the responsibility of providing these facilities. Again, the Government does not listen to the advice and guidance of relevant professionals in policy formulation and project execution,” he regretted.
He added; “In this era of a knowledge-driven society and economy, any government that wants to deliver on its mandate and obligation to society must deliberately seek, respect and implement the advice of professionals.
That is the difference between the developed world and the rest of other nations. They invest heavily in research and development because they have discovered that research is the engine room of human and social progress and survival. It has been said that knowledge doubles every seven years, if any society does not engage actively in research, knowledge discovery and development, such a society or government would be left behind.”
Also, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, the National President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) said; “I believe that the level of preparedness should have been better than it is now. The saving grace that we have is that we have had an experience in managing crisis like this which is the Ebola crisis.
“That has given us residual experience in the world, but beyond this, we ought to have done a lot better. Because I believe that when the first signs came when the news broke, I expected that efforts should have been made especially with acquiring medical equipment that would have been used for managing the illness.
“We are certain that, if such an epidemic had occurred in the world that Nigeria was going to be part of it, given our level of interaction with China. In fact, our involvement with global trade and the fact that Nigerians travel all over the world, our level of preparedness should have been better. We need to be more proactive than we have been but, I think that the Ebola and some of the residual incidence have been helpful here,” he added.
Dr Usman Abdulrahman, an Infectious Diseases Specialist and member, Nigeria Infectious Disease Society, said; “Our level of preparedness is poor in terms of isolation centres or treatment. Like the Professor Ehanire Osagie, Health Minister said, the one in Abuja is still under construction, and hopefully to be completed soon. The one in Lagos is what was built during Ebola hence may likely need upgrading or modification to take care of coronavirus patients.
He added; “Needless to say that more centres are urgently required if we are really serious in our emergency preparedness.”
Abdulrahman who also works with University of Abuja Teaching Hospital (UATH) Gwagwalada, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, further observed; “One thing that can help in the containment of the disease is to strengthen disease surveillance at both ports and community education on precautionary measures.”
Similarly, Olumide Akintayo, former National President of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) told our reporters; “From a realistic perspective a country cannot be ready to contain any health emerging with the structure of its weak or poor funded health system. The exception is probably the Lagos State Government (LASG) in sub-Saharan Africa. It has the heaviest and probably the only function isolation center in Nigeria.
“Given the scenario we are only realistically relying on divine intervention. I think we might restrict international movement to part of entry in Lagos and Abuja, while the international public health emergency last. This is because the surveillance is difficult in this clime in which clients are met usually about the health when they consult health providers,”Akintayo added.
On his part, Dr Avidime Solomon, Chairman, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) Committee on Inter-Professional Relations and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, recommended that the NCDC which is saddled with the responsibility of contact tracing should strengthen both the human capacity and resources to overcome all the challenges obstructing contact tracing. “There is need for the stakeholders that is FMOH, Ministry of Aviation and other relevant agencies to collaborate to accomplish the task.”