One year after, Churchill Okoro chronicles the alterations in several activities and the nation’s healthcare response to the pandemic.
In March 2020, Philip Jimoh (not real names), a 46-year old Italian-based Nigerian arrived at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos State, with a broad smile and a longing feeling to see his parents.
After he alighted from a cab hired to drive him home, the middle-aged man, who hoped to see his indulgent parents, received a call from an unknown number that he was among those on the list of persons that came in contact with someone diagnosed with an infectious disease, and was directed to self-isolate.
“I was informed by an unknown caller that one of the passengers in the plane we boarded had fallen ill. I became frightened and thought seeing my family right away would have been a joy to behold,” he said.
A year ago we all watched with amazement the emergence of a strange respiratory ailment with feverish symptoms, spreading at a breakneck pace and claiming lives.
This novel infectious disease was first identified in 2019 in Wuhan, China, and was termed Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). In March 2020, the World Health Organisation declared it a global pandemic.
Precisely February 27, 2020, Nigeria recorded an index case who was an Italian. Subsequently, many persons, including prominent Nigerians became infected and some lost their lives from COVID-19 complications.
While Nigeria recorded its first fatality on March 23, the total number of confirmed cases rose to near a hundred on March 29.
Today, more than 153,000 confirmed cases have been reported, number of deaths has surpassed 1,800 while more than 130,000 persons have recovered according to a case update announced on February 24, 2021, by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC)
To watch and direct efforts by the government at all levels in curtailing the spread and mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic across the country, the Federal Government established the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 chaired by Boss Mustapha, Secretary to Government of the Federation. Other members of the task force include ministers and other departments and relevant agencies.
Strikingly, the emergence of COVID-19 brought the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to the limelight– an agency saddled with the responsibility of coordinating public health emergencies.
The NCDC under the leadership of Chikwe Ihekweazu, no doubt, has been working assiduously with all states to enhance surveillance and support response to the pandemic.
To protect Nigerians against the deadly virus, the government urged all residents to strictly adhere to all health and safety protocols, especially maintaining social distance, regular washing of hands with soap under running water and compulsory use of facemasks in public.
Also, state governments were supported financially to build and expand existing isolation centres to ramp up testing of COVID-19.
The new normal
As days go by, stay home or mask up keep COVID-19 away became the survival mantra. These precautionary measures were adopted as non-medical measures to control the spread of the virus.
Before now, Nigerians attended schools physically, there were no restrictions on the number of persons in public places, and the majority saluted their friends and colleagues by shaking hands. And human beings were allowed to sneeze freely even with a short pray of “bless you” being offered to the person who expresses such a reflex action.
Unfortunately, on March 30, the lockdown was imposed by the Federal Government on three states, including Lagos, FCT and Ogun for an initial period of 14 days.
International flights and interstate travels were banned; schools, businesses and offices were closed with exemption to those rendering essential services.
Consequently, the decision affected livelihoods and made it difficult to eke out a living. The restrictive measures increased the unemployment rate, crippled Nigeria’s economy and was opined to be a major catalyst to the economic decline.
Though there was a gradual easing of the lockdown the devastating effect of the disease left a footprint on everyone.
Response to COVID-19 has changed the way people live, work or take part in social activities, including weddings and funerals. These days people meet, receive lectures online as part of complying with the physical distancing measure to reduce the spread of the disease, sneezing became dreadful as one is advised to sneeze on one’s elbow while coughing in public is now a stigma.
Remote treatments and the wearing of nose masks have become the order of the day. Fashion designers have found a new avenue of making money through the sewing of face masks just as they smile to the banks daily to deposit their proceeds from the sales of their products.
For a few months, there was a decline of daily recorded cases, however, the number of positive cases surged during the festive period.
Fortunately, in December the news of approved vaccines in developed countries brought a huge sigh of relief to everyone.
While numerous vaccines are currently at different stages of the trial, several vaccines have been approved for use. They include Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford/AstraZeneca. These vaccines have different effective rates and storage temperatures.
After a preliminary investigation on the safety and efficacy of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) approved it for use.
However, Nigerians have continued to express concern over suspected unequal distribution of the vaccines by those in authority.
Be that as it may, will the world ever be the same again? Can we ever exchange pleasantries like the good old days again? These are the one-million-dollar questions still begging for answers. Only time will tell as we keenly wait to see the end of this pandemic and the world returns to the way it used to be.
The way forward to manage future emergencies
“The system meant for intervention must be ready. The federal government and indeed the national health system should ensure the national health information system is strengthened,” says Omokhoa Adeleye, a Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH).
Adeleye explained that disease control measures are successful based on the extent emergencies are detected, urging the government to promote confidence-building in the health system to have a stable and reliable disease management information system.
“The federal and state governments have responded moderately well. With the level of economy and resources we have, one cannot but commend the FG and the Lagos state government for the prompt response. The response limited the disease in Nigeria otherwise it would have been worse”, the professor said.
On COVID-19 vaccines, he stressed the need for the Federal Government to prioritize vulnerable people, noting that vaccinating them would help to drastically reduce deaths from COVID-19.
Another medical expert, Anthony Obi opined that building a strong emergence response mechanism and strengthening the health system across the country can go a long to help manage emergencies that may come up in the future.
Obi, who is the Edo State COVID-19 Incident Manager, identified a weak health system as a major challenge, saying that “when people see the health system is strong, they will think of utilising it”.