Forty years ago, smallpox became the only human disease to be eradicated globally, as the World Health Organisation certified its eradication in 1980. Caused by one of two variants of virus, the last case was diagnosed in October 1977. Today, there’s no evidence of small pox infection and transmission anywhere in the world. The virus however still exists officially only in research laboratories.
Who would have ever thought that the world would be locked down, shutting down non essential commercial activities, restrictions in the airspace and many confined to life indoors? Have you ever imagined that the world will remain in abeyance for many weeks? Although no one could have predicted the current situation, history has shown that this situation is not entirely new. History has shown that the Spanish Flu of 1918-1920 was a pandemic that cut across the world. This undesirable but inevitable situation has revealed the many inadequacies of our hyper-galloping globalised world. Many world leaders are caught between a rock and a hard place – bogged down with fighting an invisible enemy and ensuring economic survival of their nation states.
These are not interesting times all over the world. Covid-19 is an unfolding pandemic with far reaching effect on every sector of human existence. The economies of countries of the world have been affected. While some are yet to navigate their way out of the pandemic, others are strategically mapping out strategies to brave the odds. Although it caught many countries unprepared, they have been able to manage the pandemic to a proportion whereby there appears to be ray of hope after all. In Nigeria, this is not so.
Prior to the index case in Nigeria on Feb 27, Nigeria’s leadership behaved as if the country was insulated from the corona virus. And when the COVID-19 case was confirmed in the country, it took the president 58 days before he could address the nation on the issue. That in itself is a failure of leadership. Many leaders of the world, including neighbouring African countries, addressed their citizens as soon as there was a confirmed test case. Any way, we have since moved on.
Aside the fatality on the economy and the difficulty in keeping people indoor without any form of respite or palliative, the primary outcome of COVID-19 is that it has exposed the failings of the Nigerian system, especially our healthcare system. The wind has blown and the ineptitude of our leaders has been exposed. This has been an open secret anyway!
Only a mean person would deny that the Nigerian healthcare system has been in a comatose for a while. Not even the many industrial actions of the pressure groups in that sector would move the government. The doctors and the Ministers of health have always been involved in series of unresolved issues with respect to Nigeria’s health care system. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the shame stares us in the face. Our incapacity to conduct these COVID-19 tests has shown the ineffectiveness and indifference of the government. How we place little value on human life is an egregious sin that has robbed the country of avoidable deaths in times like this. Over the years, successive administrations have failed to take full responsibility of our own infrastructures or the dearth of it. They would prefer to go on medical tourism rather than develop a working healthcare system. Block heads!
But for the support of the private sector and non-government organisations during the period of the lockdown, government’s support was a drop in the ocean as citizens groan at home while many people defy the stay-at-home order which was meant to limit the spread of the coronavirus infection. Although the government claims that it has capacity to test 50,000 persons daily for the virus, it is yet to test up to that number after more than two months since the first case was recorded. With daily increase in the number of infected persons, the government has also expressed her fear of inadequate isolation centres. This is sad!
The shame of Nigerian government and her insensitivity and heartlessness were taken to another height when covid-19 patients in a Northern state took to the streets to protest their neglect and negligence in dealing in with the problem. According to the protesters, they were neither supplied food nor medical attention at the isolation centre. These patients who were supposed to be in isolation in a bid to contain the pandemic were left to fend for themselves. In the midst of the insufficiency, the government has ordered the importation of Madagascar’s solution (herbs) to COVID-19, which, is yet to be certified by WHO. Moreso, with adequate support, we can also make right here and export to other nations, thereby boosting our forex. How disheartening!
From history, we now know that this is not the first pandemic. And it may not be the last. But Africa has never been prepared for any major emergency. COVID-19 presents an opportunity for Africa, Nigeria in particular, to take health care seriously. Primary health care must be upgraded to basic standard beyond the first aid treatment and pre and post-natal services which seem to be their specialisation. Secondary and tertiary healthcare must also be given adequate attention. There are many deaths that could have been prevented in our hospitals simply because we have remained contented with the crumbs of technological innovation with laid back personnel who have constantly been overworked beyond reasonable capacity. What a pity!
Human beings are animals of faith and fate. Unless there’s a superior force they believe they will survive every odd no matter how dastardly it may seem. The reality however is that no one is immune from emergencies. It therefore behoves a responsible government with the kind of peculiarities that Nigeria boasts of – demographic magnitude – to be always prepared for such. But how can our government make any meaningful preparation when our data and record keeping is all over the place – grossly inaccurate and totally unreliable for any meaningful intervention. I wonder!
A sage says; “Don’t be sad that roses have thorns, rather be glad that thorns have roses.” In other words, don’t be sad that opportunities come with crises; rather, be glad that crises come with opportunities. With the realities that stare us in the face, hopefully, all levels of government would rise to the challenge of governance that Nigeria truly deserves. This is a wakeup call, a call to action, to turn around the fortune of Nigeria and bring out beauty from the ashes of COVID-19. In times like this, a purposeful leadership is what we need, and it is urgent too. We must not waste this emergency.
Adeosun writes from Akure