From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye,Abuja
no doubt, one can never measure the level of sacrifices the frontline healthcare workers battling to flatten the curve of the novel coronavirus pandemic, codenamed COVID-19, make. The pandemic has led to more stress and a few resting periods for these health workers.
The impact on healthcare workers, physically and mentally, continues to worsen, with reports suggesting critical staff are dealing with severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression or anxiety.
In January, the Nigerian authorities pledged to provide more protection for health care workers, following an upsurge in COVID-19 cases among the group. In the same month, Health Minister Osagie Ehanire said more than 800 healthcare workers in the country had been infected with the virus since June 2020, while the Nigerian Medical Association confirmed at least 20 doctors had died from the virus within the same period.
All these and more formed the desire to do something to reach out to the healthcare workers who have been working round the clock at the frontlines during the coronavirus outbreak by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 media team.
Valentine’s Day is one of those annual rituals that send the consumer retail market spiralling into the stratosphere as the young and old find an excuse for spending money they oftentimes cannot afford.
Valentine’s Day 2021 has come and gone but the memories linger for young and old lovers, the hospitality industry, entertainment industry, families and friends. How did it go for the health workers who put themselves in harm’s way so that the nation could conquer this monster?
The visit was to assess the situation at the centres and to also celebrate Valentine’s Day with healthcare professional at the facilities.
The frontline workers at some isolation centres and the National Reference Laboratory (NRL), centre of the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), could not hide their joy that even though they have been away from their families for almost a year, it feels good to be loved and appreciated.
For them, the only way the Federal Government, individuals and corporate organisations can appreciate their efforts in the nation’s fight against COVID-19 pandemic in the country was to take responsibility and adhere strictly to non-pharmaceutical interventions.
According to them, they were vulnerable to the virus as they were the first responders to patients in the country.
The medical superintendent and team lead at the ThisDay Dome Isolation centre, Dr. Victor Molokwu, speaking on the current situation of COVID-19 in the country, said, with the reports that they received across the country, the cases were decreasing.
According to him, this showed that Nigerians were taking responsibility, especially with the directive from government to enforce wearing of masks in public buildings.
He said: “From what we are seeing here today, we don’t have much severe cases as it used to be between December 2020 and second week of January this year.”
Molokwu reiterated the warning that COVID-19 is real and that people must take responsibility in whatever they do by adhering to the non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) of washing hands frequently, wearing facemasks, and keeping social distance, among others.
On the welfare of the frontline health workers, he decried the fact that the Federal Ministry of Health responsible for them has only paid those at the centre, including the cleaners, twice since July 2020.
He said: “And they come here every day, they are taking risks. So, what happened to the ad hoc staff?”
Molokwu, however, said while the FCTA has given assurances that it would address the challenges that fall under its purview, they were yet to hear anything from the Federal Ministry of Health.
Speaking on the impacts of the virus on them and their families as frontline workers, the manager of the ThisDay Isolation/Treatment Centre, Mr. Henry Nwachokor, who has been away from his family for eight months, said he was at the centre at all times to ensure everything was in top shape and functioning.
According to him, since there were no windows at the centre, there must be electricity and the air-conditioning must work at all times to prevent people from suffocating.
Nwachokor said: “This (being a frontline worker) has impacted on me. For instance, I have not seen my wife for the past eight months. So, this is how it is and I hope people will continue to take responsibility. This will make things easier for us and the nation.”
At the National Hospital Isolation/Treatment Centre, the matron duty manager, Mrs. Ebere Ogbonna, noted that health workers, who were treating COVID-19 patients already work under very stressful conditions and their families were also at risk of the virus.
She, therefore, urged government to recognize their contributions and dedication to service by paying all their allowances on time.
“Therefore, their salaries and allowances should be paid promptly at the end of every month,” she added.
Dr. Catherine Okoi, COVID-19 laboratory manager, NCDC National Reference Laboratory, said that since the start of the outbreak, the agency has worked tirelessly to achieve testing for the virus through the rapid expansion of laboratories across the country and increased surveillance.
“This is enabling the prompt detection of cases reported, even at our points of entry,” she explained.
Okoi, however, said that the reality of increasing transmission, test positivity rate, and confirmed cases remain a course for concern in this second wave of the coronavirus in the country.
She charged Nigerians that there was need for stricter adherence to NPIs such as the proper use of face masks, frequent handwashing, and maintaining physical distance of at least two meters.”
According to her, “At NCDC, we have continued our operations even today as the world celebrates Valentine, we are here to serve our country to the best of our ability. Several colleagues across the country will be away from their loved ones on the field, strengthening the nation’s public health response to this pandemic”
She noted that the National Emergency Operations Centre has maintained the steam since the beginning of the pandemic in supporting all states in their response.
The PTF media crew, at each centre visited, expressed admiration for the brave healthcare professionals.
They urged the healthcare professionals not to be discouraged despite the numerous challenges they were facing, including being away from their loved ones for so long, but to be assured that their efforts were appreciated and supported.