Like the Boko Haram insurgency which is novel to Nigeria, the novel Coronavirus would yet prove to be the single biggest health challenge of the country. It could expose the health system and subject it to a trial that puts the health authorities and political leaders on their toes. Should it find itself into the country, which we hope not, an emergency plan (such as special health facilities and treatment centers to isolate suspected cases), would have to be put in place to contain it.
Already, the country is grappling with humanitarian crisis as a result of insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and an epidemic like the COV19 virus could add to the security challenges in yet in another dimension.
Due to the demographic structure of the country which is characterized by a high population, the poor and vulnerable, it is unimaginable the humanitarian crises the country could face.
Unfortunately, the Office of the National Security Adviser(ONSA), which is supposed to demonstrate to Nigerians how it plans to deal with the eventuality, has found itself in a deep political mess with the Office of the Chief of Staff, leaving everything to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO).
An epidemic of this magnitude in Nigeria has a far reach implication on the West African sub region and even Africa as a whole and with the generally poor health system in the country, the devastation could be unimaginable.
Meanwhile, the NCDC has stated that, “this new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) appears to cause mild to severe respiratory symptoms like cough, fever and breathing difficulties. From current evidence about 98 persons out of 100 persons with the disease recover, and it appears that death is not a common outcome, mostly in patients with underlying health issues… there is no specific treatment yet for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. However, many of the symptoms can be treated. Therefore, treatment is based on the patient’s clinical condition. In addition, supportive care for infected persons can be highly effective”.
Given this state of affairs, the Centre has adopted measures aimed at checking the imminent danger. These measures are social, diplomatic and hygienic in nature.
According to the Center, “given the present situation, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control has put in place quick and diverse strategies to prevent importation of cases into country. A multi-sectoral Coronavirus Preparedness Group continues to carry out regular epidemic intelligence gathering, enhanced surveillance at the points of entry, intensive risk communications, strengthening laboratory capacity for testing, placing National First Rapid Response Team to highly pathogenic infections on alert, scaling up of Public Health Emergency Operation Centers in states etc. (PHEOCs already established in 22 states)”.
It says that: “The Coronavirus Preparedness Group has representatives from Federal Ministry Of Health (FMoH), Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), World Health Organization (WHO), US Centers 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 detective Travel advice to travelers returning to Nigeria”.
Also, the Chinese authorities have put certain measures in place which include the following: The Chinese Government has extended the Lunar New Year holiday and put in place other measures to dissuade their citizens from traveling out of China; the Chinese Government has instituted many significant measures to contain the spread of the virus outside China including major travel restrictions; air passengers travelling from China are screened on exit to prevent the exportation of the virus. This includes temperature checks combined with the provision of information and masks to passengers; passengers without symptoms on departure but become unwell in transit are advised to self-report to the Port Health Services on arrival.
On the other hand, the Nigerian authorities have stated that, “the Port Health Services unit of the Federal Ministry of Health has heightened screening measures at points of entry. In addition to automated thermal screening at points of entry, travelers from China to Nigeria are asked questions upon arrival about symptoms of illness and travel history”.
For instance, “If you have returned from travel to Nigeria from China in the last 14 days, you should (self-isolate) stay indoors and avoid contact with other people. Please follow this advice even if you do not have symptoms of the virus to protect yourself and your loved ones. If you experience any symptoms, please call the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control immediately on 0800-970000-10 (Toll free call centre)”, the NCDC website warns.
In it travel advice for travelers to China, NCDC says, “we strongly advice that all non-essential travel to China should be delayed, until the outbreak is contained” and that “travelers from Nigeria to China, are advised to avoid contact with sick people, animals (alive or dead) and animal markets”.
The Federal Ministry of Health through NCDC and its partners have also given out some pre-cautions. It says, “to reduce the risk of spread of coronavirus, members of the public are advised to adhere to the following measures: wash your hands regularly with soap under running water, cover your mouth and nose properly with handkerchief or tissue paper when sneezing and/or coughing. You may also cough into your elbow if a handkerchief is not available; avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing, avoid self-medication, report to the nearest health facility when you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms, healthcare workers are always advised to observe standard infection prevention and control measures when attending to patients and take a travel history, travelers from China who show no symptoms on arrival, but who have a fever and cough within 14 days of arrival in Nigeria, on and response”.
Meanwhile, apart from the health, social and diplomatic implication for Nigeria, the coronavirus has implication for drug shortage, since Nigeria almost wholly depend on China for its drug supply.
Speaking at an event held ahead of the African Medicine Quality Forum, which will hold between February 24 and 28 in Abuja, the Director-General of NAFDAC, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, revealed that: “Seventy per cent of our drugs are imported and the alarm I am sounding now is one that everybody should take seriously. We have drug insecurity because of the coronavirus.
“India is already feeling it because they buy most of their materials and active ingredients from China. If India is feeling it, we should start praying because we don’t manufacture anything here except water. We import almost everything, active and non-active ingredients, equipment and so on.
“So it is a scary thing and I have been emphasizing this from day one. We need drug security. Since we import 70 per cent of our drugs, then, we are in trouble if such things happen.”