By Doris Obinna and Fred Ezeh
On January 30, 2021 exactly one year after World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 pandemic a public health emergency, many rich countries are struggling yet again with dangerously high mortality rates and overloaded health systems. New and potentially more infectious virus variants have emerged in places as the United Kingdom, South Africa and few others.
Some 100 million people have become ill and over 2 million have died. Many of the world’s poorest countries have escaped with comparatively fewer COVID-19 cases and lower mortality. But these countries may still suffer more “collateral damage” in terms of health as well as economically, over the long term, according to recent studies.
And as those countries wait for access to vaccines, they face tough, every day choices about how to keep case rates low with curfews and lockdowns, while ensuring peoples’ everyday survival. Meanwhile, February 27, 2021, would be one year the Federal Ministry of Health confirmed its first case of the disease.
Speaking on how well the federal government have managed the disease, Medical Director, God’s Goal Hospital, Ojo, Lagos, Dr Gabriel Omoniye, said, when you talk about COVID-19, some cases are mild, some seems symptomatic while some are not severe.
“You know even some of them do not even need admission in the hospital, some don’t even think that they have it, but later on, they start thinking that, the thing that I thought was malaria was not really malaria. What I thought was cough and catarrh was not really cough and catarrh. So talking about management of COVID-19 is a bit challenging, because some persons thought its malaria and they bought drugs when they had this mild and symptoms of malaria. And some didn’t go to hospital but most of mortality and the casualties were as a result of mistaken identity.
“There were people who had severe forms, some with underlying illness; some were old while some are with heart problems. Others had diabetics, cancer and so on. And world over those were adverse factors. Also, when you compare the number of workers and the number of patients to be attended to, there were some persons who complained that they left the hospital unattended to. Actually, a lot of people complained on how they went to hospital and it wasn’t convenient for them. In some cases, some were delayed before they could be attended to. All this, must have led to loss of lives and other unfortunate incidents.”
He continued: “In other to improve the care of COVID-19 cases, the health system needs to be rejiggled and the government at all level needs to do more. Pump in more money, employ more people and invest in facilities, improve to best standard practices and so on. Some of the healthcare workers and some healthcare providers are afraid and were apprehensive over the pandemic.
“It’s like sending a soldier to the war to fight the enemies without arms and ammunitions, so when some health workers, who are at the emergency section has no equipment and facilities, no personal protective equipment (PPE’s) to work with, the person becomes afraid, which might in-turn spoilt things. Yes you’ll be afraid. You will somehow be apprehensive with the patient or the suspected carrier of COVID-19.”
According to him, some people could not be attended to as health workers were afraid to relate with the patients as it ought to be, which led to a lot of complaints. “People were not attended to on time and then there are also cases where some of are not COVID-19 carrier but were turned down by the healthcare facilities/hospitals.
How Nigerians coped with COVID-19
COVID-19 undoubtedly, visited pains and sorrow on the world, Nigeria inclusive. Like a thief in the night, COVID-19 stole the joy of many Nigerians same way it did to global population. It redefined people’s way of life as well as other human activities, introducing the “new normal” lexicon. However, the caution on large gatherings as part of measures to contain community transmission of dreaded coronavirus pushed socioeconomic activities to several online platforms.
Weeks of unexpected total lockdown worsened the situation. It led to the closure of several SMEs which were major employer of labour, thus forcing many out of job with ripple effect on the economy and standard of living of the people.
In fact, many Nigerians that rely on daily earnings for survival were worst hit. People were of the opinion that, in addition to other wrong socioeconomic policies of the government, the mass return of millions of people to job market was largely responsible for significant rise in insecurity in Nigeria.
Necessity being the mother of all invention, many Nigerians were forced to adjust their lifestyle as well as their businesses and other social activities to suit the times and remain relevant in public discussions, in compliance with the COVID-19 safety protocols.
Education, church services, corporate meetings, birthday and burial parties as well as several activities changed their ways of doing things. They went virtual connecting with people on online platforms. While people in ICT made brisk business, others in analogue communities recorded tremendous losses with many even losing their jobs.
For instance, Monica Ikachi, a resident of Kabusa, in Abuja, who deals on food stuffs, said she was lucky that government exempted them from the movement restrictions because of the food stuff they sell.
She, however, told our correspondent that she was forced to hire an android phone in order to continue to do her grocery business. “My customers many of whom I visit their houses often before the lockdown denied me entry. They choose the option of sending their requests to me on WhatsApp or other social media platforms. I package them and deliver the items through courier services.
“It was tough for me during the first few weeks of the lockdown. Hunger was dealing with my children. My husband was among the first set of staff that were disengaged from where his workplace. I almost went from house to house begging. I tried as much as I could to get the palliatives that was being shared by the government but couldn’t. COVID-19 dealt with me badly during last year.”
Similarly, Istifanus Caroline, who owns a boutique shop in one of the popular plazas in Central Area, Abuja, said she faced the toughest time of her business life in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted socioeconomic activities in the country.
She said: “Suddenly, everything came to a standstill. Nobody expected the lockdown. People were forced into their homes, restricted from movement and other socioeconomic activities. Even when the lockdown was over, it was difficult restarting again because a lot of damages have been done by the COVID-19.”
Meanwhile, a health worker with Maitama District Hospital, Abuja, who identified herself as Kate, said she was engaged with work throughout the period of lockdown. “We were tagged essential workers then and were granted free movement.”
She added: “My family missed me a lot because I was always at the hospital. I worked beyond my shift because of the situation then. But the problem was that some allowances that was supposed to be paid to us never come even up till now.”
On health sector
Chairman, House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on COVID-19, Haruna Maishalia, confirmed on Monday that COVID-19 pandemic could be best described as a blessing in disguise to Nigeria health care system.
He said: “COVID-19, in a way, was a problem. But it has prompted us into action that confirmed that we could solve our problems when given the right opportunity. We are talking about vaccines now but remember that vaccine is for prevention. But before the preventive vaccine, all the non-pharmaceutical measures as articulated by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 should continue to be in place because they are just like vaccine.”
He, however, confirmed vaccine that were first developed in response to COVID-19 requires certain cold chain storage facilities to enable it remain potent. “Unfortunately, the cold chain facilities are unavailable in Nigeria. However, there are discussions that Nigeria could procure vaccines that could be stored using the storage facilities used to store polio vaccines.
“Stakeholders are meeting on the matter and I hope that, very soon, they would bring a supplementary budget to the National Assembly for finance to be made available for the procurement.”
Gains and losses
Omonaiye said: “The infrastructure, the equipment the facilities, donations from individuals, corporate organisations and across the world to cushion the effect of COVID-19, I think that some of the things we got so far, if we can build on such template. I mean, the knowledge about the disease is not only for a set of people it cuts across. The contact tracing and first responders, how people were educated on how to use the sanitizer, hand washing, the social distance and other protocols , if we should keep to them if we should maintain those protocols, I would say is the gains.
“Then for the losses, people lost their lives and its unfortunate, even some medical professionals, nurses, doctors, pharmacist and all the other medical practitioners; some of them lost their lives through this, those are big losses. So far it has been a very big challenge, some persons left the country before the COVID-19 but couldn’t come back, and some came in but couldn’t go back. They stayed at home for more than expected and it was not comfortable at all because so many people have made plans on how to do their business and all the rest so it wasn’t a convenient thing.
“Meanwhile, on the other hand, government and the nation in general were put on hold. Workers were restricted from going to work I think from levels 1 to 12 couldn’t go to work, they were working from home which is a loss to the government. International airports were shut and other economic activities that were crumble at that time.
“The whole thing didn’t help the economy at all as factories and industries were shut while many companies wind down because they found it difficult to continue. You know some could not pay full salaries, some workers were asked to hold on while the COVID-19 last. There is also the palliative which was not handled properly by the government; we all know how it ended.
“Most importantly is how the vaccines are available in the country eventhough some people are septic about the reality of COVID-19 following the quick production and manufacturing of the vaccines: So the availability of vaccines is an achievement in the fight against COVID-19.
“But again the body of knowledge about the disease has been increasing and expanding.”
“During the early stages, the government and other stakeholders were in a dilemma on how to manage the crisis. The health care sectors on their part where not prepare as many cases where rejected as I mentioned earlier. I think that by now the leaders must have been taught a lesson. I think they have learnt some lessons as regards the outbreak of COVID-19. Some lessons in the sense that since they have the money and fly private jets and all that but were restricted during the pandemic.
In other words, our leaders should think about other eventualities and unexpected contingencies. “Being a rich man may not really help you in or out at all times, being a rich man will not help you every time so some persons have said the situation in the case of Nigeria, was well- handled but to some it was not well- handled.
“Honestly one would wish we never experienced COVID-19 but unfortunately it is here. So I think to an extent we have reasons to thank God, lives were lost. People lost their loved ones some people lost their friends and relatives however we commiserate with them and we pray that God comfort all those who lost their loved ones by COVID-19,” Omonaiye added.