Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Minister of health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, on Saturday, appeared on a television programme for an update on COVID-19 and other related matters. Here are excerpts of the interview:
The figure of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has continued to rise despite different measures by government to contain the spread of the virus. Should Nigerians be worried about the situation?
There’s no cause for worry. In fact, worry should not be the issue now because it will not solve the problem in our hand. We must know that majority of the cases being confirmed now are traced contacts of index cases. However, it’s very important for Nigerians to know that 91 per cent of the contacts have been traced and we are working on them. All we need from Nigerians is to help us contain the community transmission of dreaded coronavirus in Nigeria by complying with the directive of the Federal Government, particularly the stay-at-home order, social distancing and other hygienic measures.
People seem not to take the lockdown seriously. Do you have other plans to ensure that the message sinks in and gets the compliance of the people?
Sincerely, the only way out is to engage more with religious and community leaders as well as other gatekeepers in society. It’s also important that we increase our advocacy to ensure that more people, particularly at the grassroots, understand the gravity of COVID-19 disease. It’s a disease that spreads extremely easily and rapidly. We would continue to urge communities not to congregate for any reason, wash their hands regularly, maintain hygienic environment, observe social distancing and all other measures that have been highlighted by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). The price of not taking these measures seriously are high and dangerous indeed. So, leaders of communities and religious groups should take it seriously and advice their people to obey these instructions, which are extremely important and should not be taken lightly.
What role is the National Orientation Agency (NOA) playing in this regard, to ensure the message reaches the underserved?
NOA is deeply involved in this fight against COVID-19. They are involved in speaking to the public in the way they usually do, through the mass media platforms, jingles, public messages in different local languages for easy reception and understanding, and action too. Unfortunately, some people tend to trivialise all of these efforts because they are yet to se the devastating effects of COVID-19 but those who have seen devastating effects, particularly in Europe and America will have fear and know that if we act quickly and make some sacrifices now, then we shall avoid a lot of pain in future. The message of COVID-19 has to be driven home, not only by NOA but by all Nigerians, especially those that command loyalty.
The Chinese doctors that recently arrived Nigeria chose an isolation location by themselves. If the reverse were the case, it wouldn’t have been possible. What was the arrangement?
Prior to their coming, we informed them that anyone from COVID-19 high burden countries goes into compulsory isolation upon arrival for 14 days in Nigeria. NCDC was directed to go and assess the state of the isolation centre long before they arrived and that was done. When they eventually arrived, they were asked to isolate for compulsory 14 days and NCDC was given the liberty of random visit to the centre to ensure strict compliance to the isolation rules. However, the authorities in China had confirmed that every single one of them had pre-boarding checks for COVID-19 and they were said to be negative. Nevertheless, we told them that our regulations require that they comply with the 14-day isolation, which they have begun.
But why were they allowed to pick where to isolate for the 14 days?
Because the Chinese construction company that facilitated their coming confirmed that they have good medical facilities for isolation. The construction company has been in Nigeria for almost three decades and they have good facilities to provide such services. Besides, we do allow self-isolation, as long as the facility being used is approved by relevant authorities. We equally directed the NCDC to carry out thorough inspection of the facilities prior to the arrival of the Chinese doctors and they did and approved it.
You applauded Nigerian doctors for their professionalism in handling the COVID-19 situation so far. Why bring Chinese doctors?
I must emphasize that we never brought them in as being stated by some uninformed people. A construction company operating in Nigeria, probably, in their own corporate social intervention, offered to bring in these people who, they said, have great experience responding to such pandemic, to help us. For record purposes, we never issue invitation to Chinese doctors or any other health care professionals neither did we solicit for their coming to assist us respond to COVID-19 crisis. We never asked for it and we didn’t even know that such intervention was coming until the construction company informed us. But we are not unhappy that they are here because it’s an opportunity for us to learn one or two things from them as regards response to the pandemic. We would soon start with video conferencing even while they are in isolation so we can learn from their experiences. There’s nothing wrong with learning from an experienced person. These are specialised doctors and nurses who have experience that would be useful to us.
What lessons have been learnt from this pandemic vis-a-vis Nigeria’s health care system?
Tremendous lessons. The first one is the fact that no health care system in the world, including the sophisticated ones in the developed countries, was ready for this pandemic. You can see that all the health systems that seemed robust and invincible collapsed under the weight of the outbreak. The development is a shocker to the world, particularly those in the world of science. We have seen in many advanced countries where patients are laid on the floor because hospital facilities are overstretched. Another lesson is that we should be prepared, have stockpiles and other things required to respond to emergencies. We are very happy to have stockpiles and we would continue to increase our stockpiles for emergencies. We are also grateful for what we got from local and international donors. We are expecting more consignments from the United Nations and European Union soon. We are aware that it’s difficult to get essential commodities for COVID-19 response now because of high demand from nations of the world. Masks, ventilators, and other essential equipment are very difficult to get now. Even if you place order now, you will have to wait for a long time because of the high demand. Because we do not know the magnitude of the outbreak, we put a lot of value in having good stockpile of necessary things, including ventilators. We are expecting 50 additional ventilators from World Health Organization (WHO) to complement the 35 that was in the consignment that came from China some days ago. These additions of brand new machines would help us a lot. Also, we are doing an inventory of intensive care specialists we have in the country. We want to ensure that every state gets an intensive care specialist that will be able to use the ventilators effectively. We are informed that four or five states do not have intensive care specialists and we are working on making those specialists available to the affected states.