On 11 February, the World Health Organisation (WHO) formally christened coronavirus as COVID-19. The name for the viral condition, now a global threat, was influenced by the fact that the deadly condition was first reported in Wuhan, China on 31 December, 2019.
So far, the pandemic is reported to have claimed over 1500 lives. This number is bound to escalate in the coming days, with the disease spreading like an inferno across the world and already contracted by more than 40,000 people. Indeed, the WHO has minced no words in declaring that the diseases has now become a global health emergency.
COVID-19 has no preventive vaccine and managing the condition, even for nations with strong health systems and immense resources, has been very difficult. While a number of researches are going on, especially in China, in a bid to invent a vaccine for this viral condition, there is yet to be a breakthrough for science in this direction. This, among other reasons, is why stakeholders in the Nigerian health sector must take urgent, proactive steps to prevent the outbreak of this deadly condition on our shores. Failure to do so, we must warn, may result in unimaginable catastrophe for our health system, as well as causing massive socio-economic disruptions.
Nigeria is currently battling the recurring outbreak of Lassa fever, with over 1708 cases reported in many states of the federation and over 103 deaths. The nation, in this beleaguered state, can certainly not afford to add COVID-19 to its burden. To contend with such a double jeopardy would be unbearable for the nation’s wobbly health system. Yet, there are reasons to be worried, as the WHO has listed Nigeria among 13 African countries considered high-risk for the spread of COVID-19. A statement from the global health body said the identified African countries have direct links or a high volume of travel to China.
We must reiterate that it is important for Nigeria to learn from the experience it had a few years back when it had to battle the Ebola outbreak which resulted in the death of a number of Nigerians, including some health workers. The only reason the nation had to battle Ebola was because it failed to prevent the infection from coming to the country. Even though the nation successfully conquered the outbreak, the fact remains that, had the right steps been taken, the general panic, as well as loss of lives and resources, could have been avoided.
It is quite encouraging and commendable that the federal government recently announced, through the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the launch of a Coronavirus Preparedness Group to swiftly combat the disease in the country, in case of an outbreak. According to the Chief Executive Officer, NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, the preparedness group has representatives from Federal Ministry Of Health (FMoH), Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), World Health Organisation (WHO), US Centres for Disease Control (US-CDC), Pro-Health International (PHI), Public Health England (PHE) and others working with the NCDC in assessing and managing the risk of importation of the disease to Nigeria, as well as making preparations for early detection and response.”
However, we must emphasise that beyond words, the Nigerian government must set in motion a standard protocol that will enable officials at the land borders, seaports as well as airports, to detect those with the dreaded disease and appropriately quarantine them before they come into the country and start spreading the virus. It may, in fact, be necessary to consider temporary suspension of flights and be extra careful with imports from China, as some European nations have done, considering that China currently has the highest burden of this condition and most of those infected outside the country were people who had had contacts with infected people in China.
More fundamentally, the Nigerian nation must begin to intensify enlightenment campaign to educate Nigerians on measures they should take to prevent this deadly viral infection. Interestingly, all of the basic hygiene rules that Nigerians imbibed during the outbreak of Ebola virus are also relevant in preventing COVID-19. Therefore, Nigerians must once again embrace regular hand-washing and other hygiene measures
As with all diseases, but particularly the COVID-19, prevention is by far better than cure. This must therefore be a cardinal programme of the government, as there is presently no cure for this highly contagious viral disease.