Diseases are not the most interesting subjects to write about, particularly by non-experts in the medical field like me. One of the reasons is that you don’t really know what to say on the subject. The second reason is that illness is a matter that people want to avoid contact with because illness can sometimes lead to death. And who wants to die? Anyone who wants to die can go to the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos and jump into the lagoon. Or he can drink a can of Sniper and the Sniper will do the job efficiently. Conversation on illness is morbid, unwholesome and uninvitingly uninteresting, yet it is something we must not only talk about but deal with.
I thought I wasn’t going to write about the coronavirus, which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has now renamed COVID-19. And my reason, apart from the ones mentioned earlier, is this: I once owned a Toyota car called Corona. In 1974, fresh from my NYSC discharge programme in Sokoto, then part of North Western State, I took up a job in the Nigerian Chronicle in Calabar, Cross River State. I was given a car loan of N4,000 with which I acquired a blue Toyota Corona car dripping with fresh paint. In street parlance, it was a tear-rubber car.
Here I was, a small boy from poor parents from a neglected village you may not find on Google Maps becoming the proud owner of a degree and a car, a brand new one, to enjoy life with. It was a thrill to own and to drive that car bought from the sweat of my brow. I enjoyed it until its life expired and I moved on. For me to hear the name of my favourite Corona being mentioned 46 years later as a killer, not a thriller, is distressful, as distressful as the virus itself. But that tells us that the effluxion of time brings its changes and complexities. One, car loans are hardly given today as they were in those days. Two, no one can buy a car, even a Tokunbo car today, with N3,700, which I used in buying a brand new car in 1974. It is a good thing that WHO has granted the virus a name change from Coronavirus to COVID-19. It will make me feel that it is not the car that gave me enormous pleasure then that is giving enormous pain to the world now. That pain is excruciating. If it hasn’t yet reached all countries of the world, the fear that it might eventually do has overwhelmed everyone everywhere.
Travellers using different modes of transportation, aeroplanes, ships, yatchs, cars, buses, trains, are all afraid of catching the virus and counting their days on earth. Elderly people in America are now told to stay indoors for their safety. Everybody else in the world is told to do the needful to save their lives and stem the spread. This virus, which has its origin in Wuhan, China, seems to have spread extremely fast, apparently because Chinese are peripatethic. Chinese are found in many parts of the world doing whatever they have to do to make money. Wherever they go, they establish their town, called China Town, with all their cultural artefacts, their latest gadgets and inventions. There is a China Town in Ojota, Lagos, where I bought a piece of chalk, which when used on the floor kills cockroaches instantly. In many states in Nigeria, the Chinese are building roads, flyovers, airport facilities and toiling in their mechanised farms. So, part of the fear about the virus is that China, being 1.4 billion people-strong, and many of them seeking greener and greener pastures around the world, the virus is a potent threat to the rest of the world as its spread may be faster than Usain Bolt’s 100 metres sprint. That fear, the extreme exhibition of it, may be the real danger, which is now driving the world’s economy to the path of a recession. The fear is also compounded by the fact that China has over the years opened up its country to foreign businessmen who wish to benefit from the magic of China’s entreprenueurial wizardry.
Many businessmen from developing countries consider Chinese technology as appropriate technology for their agricultural and industrial enterprises. So, China has become an attractive destination for them. Hordes of businessmen, traders, tourists and footballers either go to China regularly or take up residence there because they find the place attractive for their desired endeavours. From the perspective of Chinese peripateticism and the rest of the world’s interest in trooping to China for some business management tutorials, the fear of the possible rapid spread of the virus is not misplaced. At the last count, more than 3,200 people have already died. The director-general of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, says the COVID-19 is deadlier than the seasonal flu but does not transmit as easily as the flu. He said at a news conference in Geneva that globally about 3-4% of the reported cases have died. That percentage may be low but they are human beings. Any single avoidable death ought to be a source of misery to mankind.
In Nigeria, an index case was recorded on February 27, 2020. An Italian citizen working in Nigeria was tested positive for the virus after falling ill on his return from Milan, Italy. He has been in quarantine at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos, while those he had contact with are being traced and quarantined.
Germs can hang on things such as doors, windows, railings, ATM machines and other surfaces. We are told to minimise our desire to touch. We are also advised to carry a hand sanitiser, which we can use before and after touching whatever we touch. Many offices now provide sanitiser for their staff and visitors to their facilities. We are also told to wash our hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. And to avoid touching our faces, noses, eyes and mouth throughout the day. It is up to us to figure out how to achieve that apparently not-easy-to-achieve instruction. Of course, you have noticed that face masks are appearing on many faces in the cities especially. At the beginning of the spread of this virus, face masks were selling for N30. Now they are going for N100 or more. Even then, they are said to be hard to find. Another piece of advice: wipe your kitchen, bathroom, toilet and table surface regularly. I think the health care professionals, especially the Minister of Health and his colleague, Minister of State for Health, appear to be doing s good job. They are on television regularly but all kinds of information dissemination platforms must be used, including leaflets, posters, vernacular and pidgin jingles on radio. In the villages, town criers and village development meetings and age group meetings must be used to spread the information on how to prevent the spread of the virus.
Many Nigerians are doing well in keeping the virus away. People keep their hands in their pockets: no handshake. Others resort to leg shake, elbow shake or knuckle shake. In those days of ebola, I remember that the Super Falcons were in a competition somewhere in the world. Whenever they scored a goal they did not shake hands with or hug each other. They simply hit their bums on other bums. Sexy bumming, you’d say. They called it ebola greeting. We also see that some people are wearing hand gloves. That is fine but can’t hand gloves gather germs except they are changed often? How many people can afford to buy and change hand gloves several times in a day? Pretty few. But the important thing is to do what you are able to do to help yourself. We learn that some shopowners in Nigeria choose to collect money from their customers with bowls. They do not touch cash. Interesting! It means that they leave the customer to count the notes one by one and drop in the bowl. Won’t the trader count all the cash at the end of the day and if the cash is plentiful won’t he be using his index finger to get saliva from his mouth to make the counting smooth? And isn’t there a possibility that there are germs on the naira notes that are passed from one unsanitised hand to another unsanitised hand? The bottom line is: just do your best for yourself and leave the rest to God Almighty.
In Nigeria, some cynicism is playing out on various media platforms. Some people think the virus is not here, that the so-called index victim from Italy does not exist, that the money voted for it by the Federal Government is just going to be chopped by some people. That is the height of cynicism by a people who have been swindled by their leaders at various levels over the years. I don’t blame them but let us be honest: the virus exists and is spreading fast. Let us banish cynicism for once and let people who have to face this deadly disease do their jobs without distraction. A beg.