Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye and Fred Ezeh, Abuja
The Federal Government has said the medical team being expected from China would be of significant benefit to Nigerians as it will bring over a million masks and other scarce supplies.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation, chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, and Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, made the disclosure yesterday.
Ehanire’s announcement last Friday that an 18-man team of Chinese medical experts, including doctors, nurses and other medical advisers, would assist Nigeria in its fight against COVID-19 had sparked controversy.
The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) had rejected the idea, describing it as an embarrassment to the association and other health workers “who are giving their best in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic.”
But Ehanire said the Chinese team would be subjected to Nigerian rules, with the assurance that there was no cause for alarm.
“It is particularly gratifying that, in the face of all of this, we are able to get these supplies here, which, even if we had the money, we would not have been able to order. In addition, the technical experts will comprise research doctors, nurses and laboratory technicians, public health managers, who will share their own knowledge and skill and their real-life experience of fighting COVID-19 with Nigerian experts, to strengthen our own management of cases, especially with regard to critical care. As we all know, this country has had quite an experience with it.”
The minister said the initiative would build the capacity of resourceful Nigerian healthcare workers who are at the forefront of fighting the virus: “The most needed personal protection equipment (PPE) are masks; we also protect our frontline workers and mitigate the spread of this disease.”
He said Nigeria has a window of opportunity to strengthen response mechanism through lessons learnt from any country with experience and can “provide hands-on demonstration on how to deal with the outbreak and give Nigeria’s clinical workforce the opportunity of sharing global best practices.”
To buttress Ehanire’s position, Mustapha said the Chinese experts would not have access to Nigerian patients but only offer advice to their counterparts and assist in installing the equipment they would bring. The Chinese doctors are not accredited by the NMA so they cannot practice in Nigeria. “They would just share their experience on how the epidemic was contained in China,” he said. “They would also offer training and advice to our doctors because they are experts in this area. The world has become a global village. If you are not willing to share or you want to live in isolation, you would not make progress. They (the Chinese doctors) would not see our patients; they would not manage our patients; they would just share their experience with us. We should be careful not to allow unnecessary controversy distract the fight against COVID-19.”
He said the support from China was a corporate social responsibility initiative by the China Civil Engineering Contruction Company, a company with total value of infrastructure contracts worth $10 billion in Nigeria.
“One major support that has attracted public commentaries is the offer by CCECC, a Chinese company, to import about 256 equipment and items in different quantities, notable among which are, 1,300,000 medical masks, over 150,000 pieces of assorted personal protective equipment as well as 50 medical ventilators. The company has also proposed to sponsor public health experts to help strengthen our public health capacity and advise on processes and procedures.
“However, I wish to clarify that all countries of the world seek for and receive help in the fight against COVID-19.
“The professionals that have been invited from China are public health specialists and medical engineers that will support Nigeria’s capacity in managing the pandemic on advisory basis, when necessary, while drawing from the experience of the Chinese.
“In no way shall there be case management and interface with patients. They will train our manpower, advise on procedures and methods, install and test the equipment donated before handing them over. I, therefore, use this medium to appeal to our medical professionals to see the positive aspects of this gesture as an extension of development in the field of medicine.
“The PTF recognises and respects the competence and capability of Nigerian doctors and other medical personnel. This is a state of war against the coronavirus and time should not be devoted to unhelpful controversies.”
Notwithstanding the explanation, the national president, Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), Aliyu Sokomba, told Daily Sun, yesterday that the invitation of Chinese doctors was a complete disservice to Nigeria’s medical system.
He said: “For now, we don’t have full details of the roles they would play when they eventually arrive. We have read reports that they are coming with scarce medical supplies and other expertise that are needed to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. For now, we would sit and observe carefully. Anything other than that would be strongly resisted by our members and we would make that known to the government.
“I have been informed that all stakeholders, including the Federal Government representatives, would meet very soon (hopefully Tuesday) to have extensive discussion on the matter and possibly iron out grey areas that concern the arrival of the Chinese doctors.”
Also, immediate past president, Postgraduate Medical College, Opubo Lilly-Tariah, expressed disappointment at the level of synergy between the leadership of the NMA and ministers of health, insisting that such “unhealthy relationship” could delay the victory against the pandemic.
He was, however, unhappy with the opposition of the plan by the Federal Government to invite Chinese doctors, describing it unacceptable in global health care services: “Few days ago, Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, accused NMA of not showing interest and support in the fight against the dreaded coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria. That’s unexpected given the critical role of doctors in such situation.”
He, thus challenged the NMA to look inwards and assess the readiness and capacity of its members to respond to the pandemic in the event that the figures rise beyond expectations.
“Besides, exchange of ideas and expertise is allowed anywhere in the world, in any profession. Before now, medical doctors entered Nigeria for one service or the other. The only condition is that the visiting doctors are given limited work permit and time to do their thing and leave. It’s global practice and Nigeria cannot be an exception,” he said.
NMA president, Dr. Francis Faduyile, strongly appealed to the Federal Government to reconsider the plan, weigh all the options and consequences before taking action: “It’s extremely risky for Nigerian government to deal with individual Chinese businessmen instead of government to government, as being the global practice.”