Judex Okoro, Calabar
Three months after the first index case of COVID-19 was recorded in Nigeria, Cross River State is free of the pandemic. For now, the state and Kogi remain the only two states that are yet to record any case. This fact flies in the face of the claim by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that COVID-19 is in every state.
Investigations revealed that Cross River had, before the pandemic kicked in, adopted pro-active measures to curb its spread. Some of the measures adopted include early deployment of medical personnel to the Margaret Ekpo International Airport, Calabar, to screen arrivals, lockdown of border points and the implementation of no-mask-no-movement policy across the state.
Measures put in place
Speaking on some early measures taken by the state, the Secretary of the Cross River Task Force on COVID-19, Mr. Asuquo Ekpenyong Jnr, said some of them were put in place in January by the Ministry of Health following the outbreak of the virus in China. He disclosed that on realising that if there was an outbreak, the state might not be able to contain it, it decided to go the whole hog in preventing the virus from spreading.
He said: “Since January, we started putting strategies in place to fight the virus by being proactive. We did this by starting early screening of all arrivals at the airport. Before the vital lockdown, Cross River had done a lockdown of our borders. We followed it up with on-the-spot checks by allowing only essential goods such as petroleum products, medicals and foodstuffs to come into the state. Besides, before it became a worldwide policy, Governor Ayade had instituted a no-mask-no-movement. And in doing that, he took cognisance of the fact that there were limited numbers of medical masks available to frontline health workers. And, so the government went into mass production of millions of masks at the Garment Factory and distributed these free to citizens. At that point, we agreed on design template and this was supervised by the governor to ensure effectiveness of the masks. This we did by doubling the layers and padding them to ensure that there will be no transmission of droplets.”
Ekpenyong Jnr. Noted further that the government set up over 50 enforcement teams headed by some members of the State Executive Council in almost all the local government areas and border villages to enforce the no-mask-no-movement policy as well as to screen those entering the state. He added that to enforce this, the governor purchased over 100 vehicles and gave them out for the exercise. This was to ensure total compliance.
“We were dogged about the fight against COVID-19 so much that we engaged the village heads, clan heads and paramount rulers,” he enthused. “It was followed with sensitisation at the grassroots using the local languages and pidgin English to drive home our messages. So I can say without fear of contradiction that the level of pandemic sensitisation in Cross River is very high. And that is why all the suspected cases’ samples sent to the lab came back negative.”
Ben Ayade’s submission on the fight against COVID-19
Kicking against some methodologies adopted by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Governor Ben Ben Ayade, a professor of science, insisted that the virus cannot survive in Nigeria owing to our hot climate. He insisted that wearing face masks can offer protection against the pandemic.
Speaking during the campaigns against the spread of COVID-19 in Calabar recently, he explained the reason for his position: “When you sneeze in our country, the virus escapes and falls into hell because it can’t stand an atmospheric temperature of 32 degrees and we sometimes have 42 degrees in Nigeria. So, what are we talking about? We are really being exploited and we must shut our doors,” he said. He faulted the way the pandemic is being managed in the country noting that it creates room for abuses and corruption.
“I can tell you that testing for coronavirus has gone eco-political,” he said. “It is more reagents, more money for some people but as for me, it is about science and reality and when someone has a wrong mentality definitely he will have a wrong reality. Why can’t we have our own vaccination plants to produce vaccines? Nigerians are endowed, very intelligent people by nature.” According to him, the tests conducted in Nigeria to diagnose coronavirus lack “reproducibility and reliability”. “You can only tests people with symptoms of the virus.”
A medical doctor’s dissenting view
But disagreeing with the view, Dr. Emmanuel Agim, a private medical practitioner, said that the Governor’s claim about droplets not surviving in hot temperate region cannot be scientifically proven and is a layman’s view of the ravaging pandemic. Agim, who works in one of the private clinics as a laboratory scientist, argued that viruses come in different forms and should be treated so, adding that the testing outcome has been really satisfactory because the Irrua Specialist Hospital that carries out most of the tests is one of the best in the country and therefore cannot give a faulty result.
He added that the no-mask-no-movement policy in the state is not a guarantee that the virus cannot penetrate. But he acknowledged that the state has really put in place some precautionary measures. He agreed with the governor that the pandemic has offered a golden opportunity for Nigerian government to establish its own vaccine production plant.
A consultant’s recommendation
Speaking on the health challenges associated with constant wearing of the local face masks produced in the state, a senior consultant with the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, who doesn’t want his name in print said: “This nose masks mass produced by the Garment Factory in Cross River is not medically tested and cannot guarantee one hundred per cent protection against COVID-19.
“There is a medical face masks that people should buy and wear as approved by WHO. If you see what people wear around Cross River in the name of face masks you will wonder whether we know the health hazards. So government had better go a step further to get NAFDAC involved in this area to make it medically healthy since it has become a policy in the state.”
According to the consultant, the symptoms of COVID-19 can also manifest in somebody who has acute malaria case, asthma, high blood pressure and acute respiratory problem. He therefore enjoined medical and health workers on the frontline to always treat patients when they come with such signs rather than tagging them COVID-19 patients and asking them to go for unnecessary protocols that could end up killing them.
Faulting what it terms ‘half-hazard implementation of the compulsory use of face masks’, the Nigerian Medical Association, Cross River State branch, said the enforcement of this policy is predominantly in Calabar among motorists and passengers of motor vehicles while pedestrians are allowed to move about freely either without them or with them hanging around their necks.
In a statement it issued, dated May 22, 2020 and signed by Dr. Agam Ayuk and Dr. Ezoke Epoke, Chairman and Secretary respectively, the association advocated for intensive testing as the state has carried out only seven tests.
It read:”The unacceptable low number of persons tested in Cross River State suggests lack of diligent, expansive and coordinated surveillance response which is the hallmark of effective prevention and containment of COVID-19. We appeal for an expansion of the surveillance unit with the provision of more field staff, utility vehicles, ICT/technical support to enable this vital unit carry out the critical role of early case testing and isolation of confirmed cases to limit community transmission. We call on the State COVID-19 Task Force to create a transparent system for tracking samples from the point of collection to the testing centres to restore confidence in the eventual results reported.”