From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has warned that Nigeria’s healthcare system is fragile and may not withstand the effects of another outbreak of COVID-19 or other pandemics.
The task force stressed that there is an urgent need for a carefully thought through and action-oriented reform of the health sector that will improve the country’s health security and place Nigeria in a better position to manage all future health threats.
PTF National Coordinator Dr Sani Aliyu made the remarks at the official presentation of the end of year report by the task force, whilst summarising key lessons that must carry forward.
According to him, ‘COVID-19 will be with us for a while. Although this is the new normal, it continues to be just as deadly. Nevertheless, we have shown it is possible to keep it in check through the work we have done – we must persevere and continue the communication and enforcement aspects required to keep us safe until the epidemic is over.
‘Next year will be all about the COVID-19 vaccine. This is a huge challenge for the country and will require your leadership and continued commitment, Mr President. All hands must be on deck to deliver and overcome the challenges of securing the supply of safe and effective vaccines, logistics and acceptance.
‘[Nigeria’s] health system has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s health system is fragile and may not withstand the effect of a major outbreak of COVID-19 or other infections. There is an urgent need for a carefully thought through and action-oriented reform of the health sector that will improve our health security and place the country in a better position to manage future health threats.’
Aliyu, outlining the next steps to be taken by the government to tackle the pandemic said: ‘As 2020 draws to a close, the PTF needs to redefine its role in the COVID-19 response and identify how to streamline into a lean but effective response body that will focus on tackling COVID-19 by sustaining the gains made while maintaining a reasonable level of readiness in response to this second surge of the pandemic but also other outbreaks in the future.
‘To do this end, an end-term review was held last week, and we agreed upon some key next steps that we must push for: Greater coordination with effective devolution to the states – States to ensure accountability on implementation of already funded activities – i.e., getting states to use the funds for the response effectively.
‘Improve sample collection and testing across all states. Collection of 400-450 samples across each of the 774 LGAs in the country must be instituted quickly. Also ramp up testing at our land borders, particularly Seme.
‘Increase and target risk communication messages against all demographics in the country
‘Addressing the 2nd surge via enforcement of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs). We know that NPIs are the most effective way to prevent the spread of this disease and for this, we must ensure that they are adhered to while allowing essential economic activity to continue. We also need to institutionalize Infection Prevention and Control policy and training nationwide — it should become a standard of practice thus protective equipment should be freely available, including from local manufacturers
‘Vaccine purchase, delivery, rollout and getting to the last mile. 2021 will see a tremendous need for COVID-19 vaccine introduction into Nigeria. This will require a comprehensive and implementable communication plan and strategy. The global community has assured 20 per cent coverage of the vaccine need via the GAVI COVAX facility but government will need to source the remaining 40 per cent for vaccines and all operational costs for delivery. This is a key step for 2021 through working with National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) and all other MDAs and partners.’
Dr Aliyu said that while a lot has been achieved, it is not over yet. ‘A lot more work needs to be done to enable us to transition back to normal. I am confident that working together and with your continued support, we will overcome this challenge once again.’