Presidential Taskforce: The assurances versus reality

Dr Osagie Ehanire - Minister of Health

Presidential Taskforce: The assurances versus reality

Government’s guarantee for keeping the infection away from Nigeria dates right back to the first confirmation of Covid-19 in China, when the Nigerian government, through the FMoH declared that it had been strengthening measures to ensure that an outbreak in Nigeria was controlled and contained using the multi-sectoral Coronavirus preparedness group led by the NCDC.

Following that, NCDC proclaimed that it had, for the past three years, been investing in epidemic-preparedness and as a result has helped set up public health emergency operation centres in 23 out of the 36 states in the country.

The multi-sectoral preparedness group, the NCDC said, has representatives from World Health Organization (WHO), FMoH, Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), US Centre for Disease Control (US-CDC), Public Health International (PHI), among others.

To reinforce it’s preparedness for the task of preventing, and where that fails, combat Covid-19, the Director General of NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekwazu, travelled to China between 16th and 24th of February 2020 on the invitation of WHO to a meeting with health counterparts in China to understudy their response to Covid-19, then rampaging through the city of Wuhan.

Upon his return, Dr Ihekwazu said that the visit to China exposed him to how China dealt with the virus and that the knowledge he had acquired was going to impact on the way Nigeria would respond in the unlikely event that Coronavirus sneaks into the country.

“I was surprised about the brouhaha around my trip. I thought Nigeria should be proud that I was invited to be part of that mission and contribute to the most important event happening in the world today,” Ihekwazu told Silverbird Television on Thursday, March 5, 2020.

But the reality is that there are many gaps in the process, then and now – gaps in the system put in place to screen people who arrive through our ports; forget those who will pour in through the porous borders. It is this ineffective system that in the first instance made it possible for the index case and others to walk into Nigeria without detection – the big and not-so-big men and women, the politicians who jump into planes to spend weekends in London, Milan, Dubai, New York and other fanciful destinations that are the hubs of Covid-19.

Having settled in in Nigeria, the challenges of testing for Covid-19 as a result of inadequate testing kits has been a major challenge – then and now. The disagreements on NCDC-conducted test results between some patients and NCDC continue to mount. The media, social media in particular, is awash with these quarrels.

The stories of dearth of strategic medical gadgets such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for medical personnel and other key medical equipment like respirators, has been an embarrassing realisation that our over 30 teaching hospitals are really ‘mere consulting clinics.’ The country had to depend on relief materials to salvage the situation. Isolation or treatment centres were ill-prepared and the seeming poor coordination between Presidential Task Force and state governments all combine to create fertile ground for the daily steady rise in the number of infections.

It was the face of all coupled with misinformation, fake news and social media-incensed hysteria that forced President Buhari, whose no-show leadership in the Coronavirus warfront, untypical of the general that he is, or much unlike his colleagues across Africa and beyond, to conduct a pre-recorded national broadcast in which he announced, among other measures, stiff restriction on movement in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states, thereby literally locking down human activities in these cities.

Even beyond this stiff preventive measure; in almost all nooks and cranny of the country, everything has come literally to a halt. For millions, especially the urban working class, livelihoods are being upended and families are staring at stark starvation, a more frightening and worrisome future. 


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