Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Federal Government has reacted to the controversy that has trailed news of Chinese medical experts coming to Nigeria to help halt the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic in the country.
Health Minister Osagie Ehanire had announced 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.
The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), in a statement by its president, Dr Francis Faduyile, had expressed the association’s disappointment with the move.
The association had described the plan as an embarrassment to its members and other health workers fighting COVID-19 under deplorable conditions. According to the association, their members should not have been subjected to the ignominy of not being carried along on such a decision.
Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 Pandemic and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, in his response said, the support from China is a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative by the CCECC, a company with a total value of infrastructure contracts worth $10 billion in Nigeria.
He said: “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 amongst 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 support coming from China is a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative by CCECC, a company with a total value of infrastructure contracts worth $10 billion in Nigeria.
“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 recognizes 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.”
Minister of Health Dr Osagie Ehanire, speaking in the same vein, said there is already a global competition for masks and ventilators, with some countries donating ventilators while others are shaping ventilators.
He said: “It is particularly gratifying that in the face of all of this we 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 of COVID-19 with Nigerian experts, to strengthen our own management of cases especially with regards to critical care. As we all know, this country has had quite an experience with it.”
The minister said the initiative will build greatly the capacity of resourceful Nigerian healthcare workers who are at the forefront of fighting the virus.
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Ehanire added: “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 her response mechanism through lessons learnt from any country that has had experience and can provide a hands-on demonstration on how to deal with the outbreak and give Nigeria clinical workforce the opportunity of sharing global best practices.
He assured that the government will continue to support states to ensure the country does not lose the battle against COVID-19, adding that rapid response team have been deployed to states to support their response.
Responding to questions on if the Chinese experts coming into the country will undergo the tests, the minister said: “anyone coming into this country will have to be subjected to the rules and regulations we have set down. Any the experts coming from abroad with all the knowledge and hands-on experience will still be subjected to the rules we have established. Even if it is assumed they would have done tests in their country, they will still have to same here.”
On if the Nigerian Medical Association will be carried along on the Chinese delegation visit, the minister said: “The NMA will definitely will be carried along. I am a member of NMA, the honourable minister of state for health is a member of NMA and I have told the president that the door is open and all he needs to do is knock and whatever I am doing I will let him in on it. And if he has any inputs he should pass it through me. He asked what I will like them to do and I said I will like to register all the doctors who are willing to volunteer including those who are retired, so that we will have a conversation with them and be able to deploy them where best to work, particularly in areas of high burden like Lagos and Abuja. So that we will make better use of what expertise they have. So we are their eyes inside the committee.”
Director-General of National Center for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said the centre has set up five targets to measure the effectiveness of its work to ensure that the time given by President Muhammadu Buhari for the committee to work has been work the sacrifices of Nigerians.
The targets for Abuja and Lagos are: to ensure that the collation is sampled for symptomatic individuals happen within eight hours of notification of the state team; the turn around time for testing and resulting will be less than 24 hours; to test 200 samples per day in Lagos and 100 samples per day in Abuja by the end of the week; isolate patients in less than six hours after they have received positive results at the state level and isolate every confirmed case.
Ihekweazu said: “We will measure ourselves with percentages on each of these indicators and use that to improve the effectiveness of the response.”
He also touched on contact-tracing, saying the centre has the targets to find all contacts even if the task is strenuous. He said each case contacts has been reduced to 30 for follow up compared to before. He said every state has contacts but most of them are in Lagos and Abuja with every contact followed up for 14 days.
“To date, 30 per cent of all our cases have been found through contact-tracing. This is made possible by electronic platforms,” Ihekweazu said:
He said a lot of volunteers have been engaged in Lagos and Abuja with the support from the WHO to work in Lagos and Abuja.
Responding to requests by healthcare professionals for a lab to be established in the state or the region, the NCDC DG said: “This week, we are creating two labs in Kano and Kaduna at the same time from tomorrow and the two labs in Jos and Maiduguri by Thursday. So by the end of the week, we will have new labs in Kano, Kaduna, Jos and Maiduguri.
“We are slowing accessing all the country but we are starting with states that we already know have a baseline capacity to build on.”
He also said the cases are being supported with mental health experts to help them cope with the disease.
Minister of Environment, Mohammed Abubakar, on his part, said the ministry was involved in route, facility and equipment tracing. He explained that the ministry is interested in the route used in transporting cases, the facilities they are kept (isolation centre or otherwise) and the means of transportation for possible decontamination.”
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, decried the that purveyors “fake news” were bent on derailing the work of the committee.
“Those who are bent on distracting the Federal Government through fake news from its focused fight against COVID-19 have not relented.
“The latest in this is the claim that I said there is no hunger in the land and that the federal government has made available N100 billion to Nigerians. It is fake. There was no time I said it nor anybody in the task force said so. Two, they are also carrying fake news that members of the task force have agreed on the sharing formula of the money that is coming into the task force. Once again, it is false.
“These people are bent on distracting the government from its focus fight against COVID-19. One of the reasons we have this daily press conference is to give you updates on COVID-19. Any other news nor emanating from either the ministers or this press conference related to COVID-19 cannot be attributed to us. The NCDC has a website and you can get an update on COVID-19. Some websites are notorious for this fake news and one of them is reporterspressng.com. I will advise Nigerians not to go there.”