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RISING COVID-19 FIGURES: Government actions not helping fight –Medical experts

Since February 27, when the first index case was discovered, COVID-19 cases have been on a steady rise. In what ways are the authorities not taking actions which are contributing to the increase in cases? ISIOMA MADIKE, in this report, attempts to find out from medical doctors

Nigeria started the month of July with the highest daily COVID-19 infections; 790 confirmed cases, bringing the total number of cases confirmed in the country to 26,484. Experts in the health sector, especially medical doctors, have argued that these exponential increases were linked to the complacency of majority of Nigerians to the released guidelines to contain the spread of the virus, fuelled by the perceived insincerity of government. Many Nigerians, in recent times, have insisted that the COVID-19 infection in the country was a scam by the government to further exploit the citizenry.

As a result, many people have been moving without face masks, disobeying the social and physical distancing rule. The use of hand sanitisers and practice of personal hygiene such as frequent washing of hands under running water with soap seems to be in the decline also.

But some persons have argued that the non-compliance to the guidelines was due to failure of the Federal Government to ensure strict enforcement of the COVID-19 guidelines, to help contain the spread of the virus. Many doctors believe that both the federal and state governments are not taking proper actions, which are contributing to the increase in cases.

To them, there is something the authorities are not doing right. They said that the government should take charge of the situation if the fight against the pandemic must be seen to be real. One of such doctors, who chose to remain anonymous, has said that the government is only tackling the pandemic half-heartedly.

On the one hand, he said, people are told to observe safety measures, but on the hand, there is no enforcement of such. He said: “Even face masks in Lagos are largely in the books, not enforced. Also, government officials have repeatedly breached the COVID-19 rules, hence making a lot of people to disbelieve the existence. It’s as if the government action says ‘If you die, you die, if you survive fine’!

The populace (a large part) do not share COVID-19 sentiments, hence the outright jettisoning of safety measures.” Another, who identified himself simply as Tunde, also said that the government, partly the people as well, are not doing things right. According to him, the government only dishes out policies and guidelines for people to observe without enforcement. There is no see through or follow-up policy, he said, to enforcing these guidelines and even where there is half-hearted enforcement, the security officials bastardise it.

“Take the issue of face masks in Lagos State, for instance, people still go about their businesses nonchalantly with heavy disregard to the wearing of face masks. If you see 20 Lagosians, 15 won’t wear face masks, and out of the five that use face masks in quotes, three will use it improperly and only two will do the right thing. So, in essence, only two Lagosians in this instance wear the mask. “So, both the government and the people are culpable in this regard. There are also those who think that immediately the restrictions were lifted that COVID-19 was lifted as well. However, if you analyse it properly, I think there is no adequate orientation and sensitisation on the issue of COVID-19 in Nigeria. The government is lacking heavily on this front.

“What you hear are people speaking English on radios and televisions and these messages are not adequately getting to the grassroots, who, to me, need the information more because of their level of knowledge about the disease. We are talking about community infection now, but we forgot that these communities are not sufficiently informed about the rampaging disease. The government has done enough in building isolation centres, treating people and dishing out safety guidelines, but has not been enough.

“But we must do the right thing, enough of emotions. The government must take charge of the situation, which I’m yet to see thus far; if the lockdown will last for six months and solve the problem, why not,” Tunde said. Also, a private medical practitioner in Lagos, Nnamdi Okonkwo, towed the same line of argument when he told one of our reporters that the government, especially at the federal level, must be seen as being on top of the COVID-19 situation. Okonkwo said: “Until the Federal Government takes full responsibility of enforcing the set rules it churns out, we will continue to deceive ourselves.

It’s not enough to set rules; such must be enforced to make it effective. You can’t set rules and allow everyone to continue to do what they like as if there is no government in the country. “Often times, people also see the officials of the government disobey these rules.

In such an instance, how would you expect the citizens to obey the same rules? Having said that, it must be pointed out too that the populace has thus far been irresponsible as far as fighting the COVID-19 war is concerned in the country. People do things nonchalantly in a manner that suggests they do not value their lives.

Incidentally, they are being aided by the security agents who are supposed to enforce these rules. In fact, it has become an avenue for money making for some of these security personnel, particularly the police, unfortunately.” “Beyond that, I personally don’t believe that the government has done enough to sensitise the people. Officials should go to the markets and parks where you have people who hardly believe in the existence of this virus.

It must be a continuous exercise by officials of the government and not the one-of thing as we have seen so far.” However, President, Association of Resident Doctors (ARD) Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Dr Roland Aigbovo, insisted that the increase in the numbers of COVID-19 infections as witnessed in the country recently was not as a result of the Federal Government’s lack of strict enforcement but rather, the complacency of Nigerians towards the COVID-19 pandemic itself.

He said: “Still a sizable number of Nigerians still do not believe that the COVID- 19 is real. There is the assumption that it’s a scam and to make things worse, notable actors and prominent Nigerians in one way or the other are painting the picture that suggests COVID-19 is not real, which is very wrong. The disease is real, people are getting infected by the day and the numbers are increasing.” Faulting the ugly trend of corruption which has been playing out even in the midst of struggling to contain the virus spread, Aigbovo said: “The law enforcement agents play a very big and critical role in enforcing those rules but you find out that with the whole restrictions on movement, for example, a whole lot of people were still moving up and down. “It was just an avenue for them to make brisk money and more money for themselves rather than focusing on the nation and the disease itself.” Also, National Coordinator, Africa Health Budget Network (AHBN) Dr. Aminu Magashi, said though non-compliance could be seen as the reason behind the increased spread, it could also be due to the increased capacity of COVID-19 testing both at the federal and state levels. He added: “The testing capacity has also improved in Nigeria. When COVID- 19 started many states were struggling to establish the molecular labs that actually test for COVID-19 even when they started to do testing they were running few tests but gradually now, states are getting more informed, skillful and enlightened and having more testing centres.

“It could be that we have rammed up the tests in the country and we are trying to get everybody that is COVID- 19 positive. In another light, lack of compliance to the guidelines could be another factor,social distancing is very challenging and difficult to do in Nigeria and in so many developing countries where we don’t have a very organised corporal body.” Magashi further said that the insincerity of the government has built mistrust among the citizenry thus making it difficult for the populace to believe that the COVID-19 cases in the country were real. “Some of the reason why people are seeing it as a scam is because of the way the government is dealing with the situation. What they are seeing from the government is about the budget; the health sector has raised over N25 billion for COVID-19, the CBN is talking about N100 billion for COVID-19 intervention fund and Infrastructural development research vaccine. “We heard the budget has been revised for 2020 and the government has captured N500 billion intervention funds for COVID-19, and many state governments are mobilising funding from the private sector and also the ministry of humanitarian affairs is talking about palliatives, distribution of allowance and palliatives all over the country. “These are what people are hearing and they are not seeing the result. So, the people are seeing it as a scam. The government needs to handle the situation with utmost transparency, maturity and accountability. Money attributed to COVID- 19 contribution should be accounted for. If the federal and state governments are doing that, the confidence of the people will be restored. The people will know this is not business as usual, but respond to address the critical issue and curtail the spread of the infection.” However, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, on Thursday urged Nigerians to brace up for further increase in the number of COVID-19 cases as a result of the easing of the lockdown nationwide. He said that more cases of the virus are expected, especially as a result of the lifting of the ban on interstate travels, and therefore urged Nigerians not to assume it is safe to move about yet. Speaking during the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, in Abuja, Ehanire said: “The COVID-19 statistics are expected to rise further with improved testing, but also as a sign that COVID-19 is actually expanding faster than our systems are handing it.” A few weeks ago, President Muhammadu Buhari, was alarmed about the unabated spread of COVID-19, describing the situation as frightening. He appealed to Nigerians to adhere to the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health to stay safe from the disease. His concerns, perhaps, gained strength from reports that Lagos, the main epicentre of the disease, may have run out of beds for patients of the disease, many of who are now allegedly being turned back at isolation and treatment centres in the state. Indeed, the spread of the novel virus touched a new milestone in the country as the statistics provided by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) as at the first day of July, revealed that Nigeria now has over 26,000 confirmed cases. On July 2, 27,110 cases were confirmed with 616 deaths while daily tests of over 4,205 samples across the country were carried out and 10, 801 discharged. According to the NCDC, the new cases were reported from 20 states with Lagos having the highest figure of 193, FCT- 85, Oyo-41, Edo-38, Kwara-34, Abia-31, Ogun-29, Ondo-28, Rivers-26, Osun-21, Akwa Ibom-18, Delta-18, Enugu-15, Kaduna- 13, Plateau-11, Borno-8, Bauchi-7, Adamawa-5, Gombe-4, and Sokoto-1.

Abia State

In Abia State the story of soaring COVID- 19 figures and the apathy in complying with the protocols among the people is not different from other areas. The state government tried to enforce the pandemic rules at the inception but after sometime, especially with the understanding that it is not a death sentence, most people decided to brave it. According to Abia State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Joe Osuji, the spike in the number of cases in the state is not only because the people were disregarding the safety measures but also because of the increase in the testing capacity of the state. “Those who would not want to go through the hassle of testing when it was far away can now be easily tested,” he said. Abia State recently took delivery of one of the two brand new GeneXpert machines ordered from the United States of America and a PCR machine donated by the Shell Petroleum Company of Nigeria. Osuji said the state has established test centres in Aba and Umuahia, a development, which he explained has made sample collection and testing easier and faster. He noted that with the machines which have been activated and put to use, the era of travelling to Abuja and Abakaliki, Ebonyi State capital to test samples was over. Osuji also said the increased awareness among the people was responsible for the increase in the number of reported cases because people can on their own come to the centres to be tested. Also, the Infection Prevention and Control focal person at the laboratory at the Abia State Specialist Hospital and Diagnostic Centre at Amachara, Dr Okorie Onuka, said the equipment has the capacity to test 15 samples within 45 minutes. It can run 10 of such tests in a day and 20 in a cycle, he said. But clearly, the government seems absolutely helpless in enforcing the protocols because it did not manage the outbreak well from the beginning, said Chief Goodluck Ibem, a resident of Aba. According to him, “government failed to convince the people that the pandemic is real. Again, it announced lockdown without adequate preparation. For instance, people were ordered to remain indoors without sufficient provision, coupled with the fact that the economy is not structured to absorb short term or emergency hiccups. “The majority of people depend on daily engagement for survival, so any day they stay at home automatically translates to going without food. The palliative government provided was so inadequate that most families did not get it, so in bid to survive the people threw precaution overboard.” Ibem noted that during the interstate travel ban, the security agencies extorted motorists and travellers, and allowed them to go. He argued that if the government wanted the people to believe that the pandemic was real it would not condone the extortion and compromise of the security agencies.

Oyo State

Initially when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the country, the Oyo State government did not expedite action on testing and there was no lockdown or restriction of movements until the figures began to soar. Unlike some states where churches, mosques, schools and markets were closed, the state relaxed the restriction till more testing centres were created. With 10 community testing centres created, the number has soared to about 100 testing positive per day. Aggressive testing revealed many numbers infected who were however asymptomatic. Enforcement of social distancing and preventive protocols of use of face masks has also been too low as many people go about at markets, milling around without face masks, believing the pandemic affects majorly the rich who are exposed to exotic lifestyles. Saturday Telegraph’s checks in the past two weeks showed that many congregants were not observing the safety protocols. Many go into churches with face masks but pull it down to their chins while singing and praying. No government officials have been seen policing the worship centres to enforce COVID-19 preventive protocols. Chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Oyo State chapter, Dr. Akin Sodipo, who doubles also a member of the Oyo State Task Force on COVID-19, on why many residents do not share the sentiment of the COVID-19 advocates regarding wearing of face masks and washing of hands always, said: “What I can simply say of them is that they are living in utter denial of the fact of reality of the pandemic. “All this is happening because the government is not enforcing the order on the preventive protocols. You need to enforce the regulations for people to comply. Get about 10 persons arrested and prosecute them, and by so doing, others will fall in line.”

Kano State

Although Governor Ganduje of Kano State appears to have done well fighting the pandemic, some health officials believe that there is still room for improvement. Dr. Sani Adamu, for instance, said that the mass approach taken by the state government in fighting the novel COVID-19 had given hopes that the state is responding positively in taming the virus. “Don’t forget that Kano has multiple testing, isolation centres and even hundreds of trained medical personnel, who were dedicated to fighting the novel pandemic,” he added. But, Dr Jamilu Tukur didn’t see government efforts in such light. He believes that the people do not believe in Coronavirus; they see it as a hoax foisted on them for some political gains, he said. “Over 70 per cent of Kano people to me do not share the belief that there is Coronavirus in the state, although they agreed that the diseases do exist.”

Anambra State

In Anambra State, our reporter gathered that ignorance of the deadly virus remains the major cause of the increasing rate in the state. It was also discovered that the majority of the populace do not believe that the virus is real. Some, according to findings, believed the pandemic to be a secret monitory venture only known to the government.

Additional reports from Igbeaku Orji (Umuahia), Sola Adeyemo (Ibadan), Mohammed Kabir (Kano), Regina Otokpa (Abuja) and Okegwo kenechukwu (Onitsha).

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