Enforce Social Distancing Rules or Face COVID-19 Spike, NMA Warns FG

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– Tasks FG to constitute PTF research team

As the Nigerian government struggles to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, medical doctors under the aegis of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) have cautioned on the need to enforce social distancing rules, as directed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), saying failure to do so will cause a spike in cases.

The association said it observed with dismay that many Nigerians have jettisoned the advice of healthcare practitioners on social distancing, as people can be seen in public places doing their businesses without any precautions, saying this might lead to a very precarious situation, especially with the commencement of the rains.

Speaking with Pharmanews in an exclusive interview, the newly elected NMA President, Professor Innocent Ujah, said: “We don’t have social distancing, as far as I am concerned. I have gone to a place like Nyanya, for instance, in Abuja. There is nothing like social distancing there. There is nothing like it also in the markets, banks, and parks.

“When you go to the market, it is just business as usual. So, we need to know why it is so. We talked about self- isolation, and I think that is one area that we didn’t get right. The government must find means of enforcing this rule, else it would worsen our situation in the country,” he said.

Ujah further urged the federal government to constitute a team of researchers to assess response to the disease in the country, noting that this will chart a path for practitioners to follow in the management of COVID-19 patients.

“We need a research team that will monitor regularly what we are doing; otherwise, we will be groping in the dark. The response must be evaluated by the research team.

“As a researcher, I think we should have a strong research team to be part of the PTF (Presidential Task Force on COVID-19). I am not aware that the PTF has a research team and we must evaluate and monitor what we do.

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“If you say we should wear a face mask, what is the percentage of Nigerians wearing masks in Abuja?” he questioned.

The NMA president further lamented shortage of healthcare practitioners in the frontline of the battle against the virus, calling the attention of government to the need to recruit more medical practitioners to the healthcare sector.

He described as unacceptable the presentation ratio of 40,000 doctors to an estimated population of 200 million, as against the World Health organisation (WHO)’s   recommendation of doctor/patient ratio of one to 600.

Ujah said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how weak the Nigerian healthcare system is. In Nigeria, we have 40,000 doctors taking care of 200 million people. That is unfortunate for us, as against the WHO standard of doctor/patient ratio of one to 600”.

Concerning his agenda for his two-year tenure, Ujah said his administration will seek improvement in budgetary allocation to health, as the pandemic has revealed the frail structure of the healthcare system.

While promising to reposition the NMA in all arears, by bringing all members on board, the new president also hinted on his plan to welcome female doctors into the activities of the association, stressing that his administration will make female doctors as well as senior colleagues more active and engaged in NMA’s programmes.

“Our administration will take the issue of the welfare of our members as a top priority. We will lobby and advocate for improved renumeration, realistic hazard allowance, universal applicability and many others.

“We want to ensure that all doctors participate in NMA’s activities. First we will find out why senior colleagues have not been participating, and we will allow female doctors to take active parts in our programmes for gender balance”, he stated.

“We face a crucial time with the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic is not just a health crisis but also a socioeconomic crisis. Hence, NMA must be innovative in its approach. We will look at how to reduce the cost of running the association by adopting technology for some of our meetings.

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“We will manage our resources with integrity and ensure that international standards of financial management are adopted in NMA in order to enhance accountability and transparency in the day-to-day operations of our Association. In addition, we will seek innovative ways for sustainable funding for NMA. I want to appeal to our members with such ideas to please reach out to the NOC with their contributions.

When asked about how he will resolve the frequent strikes by doctors, he said: “For the record, NMA has not gone on strike for the past 20 years, except for resident doctors, whose issue the government is trying to resolve.

“I don’t think any doctor likes to go on strike, as strike is seen as the last option when dialogue fails. Inasmuch as it is in our power, we will dialogue more with government, and embrace consultation, while we urge government to give us listening ears,” he said.

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