The rising cases of COVID-19 disease and deaths in Nigeria and other African countries should worry health authorities on the continent. There is no doubt that Africa is gradually heading to the second wave of the disease and possible lockdown. Statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other agencies on the spread of the pandemic, are scary. As at December 13, Nigeria recorded about 418 new cases and three deaths. The development raised confirmed cases in the country to 73,175 and 1,197 deaths in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. However, about 66,090 cases have been discharged.
The 418 new cases were reported from 17 states – Lagos (113), FCT (86), Abia (47), Kaduna (39), Rivers (27), Katsina (22), Benue (14), Oyo (13), Kano (12), Enugu (8), Edo (7), Imo (7), Bauchi (6), Ebonyi (6), Ogun (6), Ondo (4), and Nasarawa (1).
In the same vein, at least 349 more people have died of complications related to the pandemic in Africa, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. The new fatalities pushed the death toll on the continent to 55,265 and 19,360 new cases. So far, the number of infections on the continent has risen to over 2.3 million. Southern Africa remains the most affected of the five geographical regions on the continent with 939,900 cases and 24,500 deaths. North Africa recorded 658,700 cases, East Africa 218, 300, West Africa 200,000 and Central Africa 61,500.
This might be a conservative estimate considering the low testing capacities in African countries and low level of literacy among the citizens. The inability of patients to access treatment in the hospitals and know their health status can also increase the number of unreported cases.
The rise in the spread of the disease and the attendant deaths can be due to the relaxation of safety precautions on the pandemic by the governments and the people on the continent as well as inadequate health facilities. In Nigeria, there has been a drastic reduction in the observation of the safety protocols put in place by the government, especially in markets and worship centres. The relaxation of social distancing, wearing of face masks, hand washing and use of sanitisers may have been responsible for the resurgence of the pandemic.
The spread of the disease is also driven by ignorance. Some people see the pandemic as a ploy by government officials to make money. Some explain it as mere malaria being put out of context. Consequently, many people no longer observe the safety protocols. Therefore, it is not surprising that Africa is witnessing rising new cases of the disease and deaths.
We believe that African countries cannot afford to be complacent in the fight against the disease considering its devastating impacts on life and general wellbeing of the people. At its peak in the first phase, most countries across the world were forced to embark on lockdown, with markets, schools, transport systems shut, while all forms of social interactions were suspended. Economies of these countries were seriously affected while medical facilities were over-stretched.
With the resurgence of the disease, some countries in Europe and America have imposed some measures to forestall its spread. African countries must be vigilant and should not relax the safety precautions to prevent the further spread of the pandemic. Another wave of the pandemic will not augur well for African countries in view of increasing poverty on the continent. There is need to comply with the established safety protocols. Governments must ensure social distancing, hand washing, wearing of face masks, use of sanitisers and general hygiene are strictly observed.
Let those responsible for enforcing the safety protocols directives be alive to their duties. This is also the time for the governments to activate the isolation centres that may have been put out of use. Public health institutions need to be strengthened in order to combat the disease. We call for substantial increase of the health budget of African countries in line with WHO recommendation. This is the time to implement the agreement reached by African leaders in 2000, to dedicate at least 15 per cent of their annual budgets to the health sector. Unfortunately, only a few of the states on the continent have done so.
In Nigeria, the N547 billion allocated to health in the 2021 budget is grossly inadequate and should be increased significantly. On the other hand, a functional health system also demands an improvement in the welfare of all health workers. All health professionals in Africa deserve adequate remuneration and should be provided with protective equipment to be able to confront the rising COVID-19 cases.