Health authorities, health professionals and other stakeholders have expressed concern about the possibility of an escalation of the spread of the COVID-19 virus during Christmas and New Year celebrations. Warning against travel, with threats to impose restrictions to enforce compliance with relevant health protocols, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, however, points out that one of the most powerful measures currently not given much attention is public enlightenment and advocacy.
As different cities, towns and communities struggle with the holiday season, the fears and concerns of our health managers are focused on how the country will cope with the expected rise in new cases of COVID-19 infection, especially during the Christmas festivities at hand.
The concern is largely based on the level of apathy and utter contempt with which many Nigerians currently treat the call to follow COVID-19 health advice. For example, many people do not follow health authorities ’instructions on the need to restrict travel and interactions, observe social distancing in functions and offices, put on face masks during large gatherings, and apply for tests to determine their COVID-19 status.
Even since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, most health advice has either not been adhered to or has been observed in most places to break the rules. More than the rest of the deaths from the relatively unknown virus kept under control those who were informed. As soon as people saw that the effect of the virus was not as powerful as previously feared, they gradually gave up observing health protocols.
During the later period of locking, people were forced to wear a face mask and maintain physical distance in public places. This has led to a temporary reduction in the number of COVID-19 cases. But locking seems to have managed to improve our already weak economy and livelihoods more than it has stopped the spread of COVID-19. Trying to get people to understand the reality of the pandemic did not achieve the desired impact and the message did not just sink.
Many believed the entire exercise was a fictional government agenda to divert resources for easy robbery. In public places such as markets, offices, political gatherings, religious worship centers, and in villages, most people neglect health care and are at risk of COVID-19 infection. But it is not only the citizens who have failed in this direction. Despite the noted efforts of some agencies in the health sector and their noble staff who sacrifice their lives on a daily basis to ensure disease control, governments or private organizations do little or nothing to set up facilities to help check the spread of the disease.
For example, our markets, schools and offices continue to operate in a way that exposes people to public health hazards. A visit to any market in urban centers shows that nothing has been done to create more entrances and exits to the markets. People still gather in the markets without wearing a protective mask. Tap water and toilets are rarely available or insufficient.
The situation has led to a jump in the infection rate across the country. Recent figures for new positive cases have shown a more than normal increase in coronavirus spread.
The sharp rise in COVID-19 cases is reason enough for government and health officials to worry. Speaking at a media briefing of the presidential working group on the COVID-19 pandemic last week in Abuja, Minister of Health Dr. Osagie Ehanire described the situation as very complicated.
The minister said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continued to rise to a total of 75,062 on Thursday morning (December 17th). According to him, a record number of 930 confirmed cases were diagnosed on December 16, the highest daily number recorded since the virus was discovered in February 2020.
He said: “This is what we have been warned about for many weeks and it gives cause for concern, not only because of the cause, but also because of the course of events.”
Wet at the ceremony
He said: “As the holiday season approaches, many people will want to celebrate, many will cram into shops, markets and places of worship, many will travel by mass transit, many will even travel to Nigeria countries from a heavy workload.” .
Ehanire said all of these circumstances have been shown to accelerate COVID-19 transmission and have caused an explosive rise in other countries. He explained that the epidemiological trend in the country has already started to show that the curve is growing again with the total number of active cases now 7,087 and a corresponding increase in the number of serious cases requiring hospital admission in high-dependence units for oxygen therapy. Support for mechanical ventilation in intensive care units.
He also said that if we include those who are in the hospital to observe the need for more hospital beds it will become more acute. By all indications, here is the second wave.
Speaking about the threat of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, the chairman of the inter-ministerial committee established to review the state of intervention efforts to check the spread of COVID-19, prof. Tomori Oyewale said the situation was expected. On whether Nigeria has finally entered the second wave of a frightening viral infection, he said: “It is no longer a matter of apprehension, it has hit us. You have 791 cases in one day and 675 the next day. He is already here with us.”
Following this new outburst, Ehanire said the Federal Ministry of Health, in collaboration with federal tertiary hospitals, has begun work to reactivate treatment centers, assessing available and needed resources and alerting health workers in the first place. He also said the Ministry will strengthen the COVID-19 home care treatment protocol for asymptomatic and mild cases and community care by the National Agency for Primary Health Care Development, in the management of moderate and severe cases.
The Minister further said that the government has started an inventory and plans to distribute a wide range of resources available in our warehouses, as needed. These include goods, equipment and consumables for personal protective equipment for deployment to treatment centers. To strengthen the workforce needs, we will strengthen the continuous national training of various health professionals, especially nurses, intensivists, biomedical engineers, to ensure proper use and maintenance of ventilators and critical equipment, while improving staff knowledge and skills, learn more about COVID -19.
Finally, the Minister said that the Technical Working Group of the Federal Ministry of Health for COVID-19 is examining the modalities for access to vaccines for Nigeria. He said the committee is in talks with WHO-GAVI about the COVAX-AMC facility, to support 180 lower- and lower-middle-income countries in accessing anti-COVID vaccines.
According to Ehanire, the Afro-Regional Director of the World Health Organization, Dr. Moeti assured that only 20 percent of the vaccine needed for low- and lower-middle-income countries will be available to Nigeria through the Covax initiative as the high-income country has secured first vaccine rights for all its citizens, and in some cases for the dual population. The minister revealed that the African Union has established a team for the acquisition of African vaccines (AVAT), whose goal is to procure vaccines for more than 60 percent of the population.
Attitude of health workers
For his part, the president of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), prof. Innocent Ujah said that the current jump in COVID-19 infection is mostly predictable. Ujah said it was foreseen and at the same time expected that everyone should be prepared for it, adding that if it happens in other climates, “they will expect it to come to Nigeria as well. That is why we preach, appeal and advocate for strict adherence to the NCDC protocol so that we can ”.
Also, Nigerian doctors under the auspices of the AMM recently met in Awki, the capital of the state of Anambra, and issued a statement expressing fears about the rate of violation of the COVID-19 protocol and its implications. Doctors have passionately called on all Nigerians to take COVID-19 prevention advice very seriously in order to stop transmission, reduce ill health and deaths from a frightening disease.
The NMA said in a statement that it strongly advocated strict adherence to the NCDC protocol on the use of face masks, regular hand washing and the use of disinfectants, as well as social and physical distancing. He further advised that one should not move on unimportant trips, especially during this yuletide season and after it.
“Government at all levels and private sector coalitions should make serious efforts to prioritize health, including additional allocations / budgetary provisions, to ensure the procurement and availability of consumables for an effective response in combating COVID-19, especially in the event of an increase in infection.
“We also want to advise the government to procure vaccines that have been reported to be effective for further research on Nigerians to confirm their efficacy and safety for the Nigerian population.”
Following the growing number of coronavirus disease cases (COVID-19) in Nigeria, the Nigerian Centers for Disease Control (NCDC) has also broken through and developed a set of guidelines for public sector leaders and business owners in Nigeria. The health advisor warned that the risk of spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 is higher indoors where there is close contact (less than 2 meters), with an infected but possibly asymptomatic person, the riskier the longer someone has close contact with infected person. He warned people to avoid traveling where possible during the Christmas period.
The center provided guidelines for employers and business owners to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, which included ensuring that they check the temperature of each employee and visitor, wearing a protective mask, providing water for regular hand washing and maintaining social distances of at least 2 meter.
Despite the acclaimed power of health protocols introduced by the NCDC in checking the spread of COVID-19, what remains a major challenge is how to get people to adhere to these health protocols, especially during this festive season. How to get people to listen to advice and adopt good health habits? How to get the government and relevant agencies to play the role of setting up the necessary facilities to further improve people’s health on a sustainable basis? These are issues that all actors in the health sector should strive to address if we are to make real progress in the fight against COVID-19.