Benue sets to battle COVID-19
IT is no longer news the impact that coronavirus or COVID-19 has dealt to countries around the world. The outbreak of the virus, which surfaced in China late 2019, has left many sick and thousands also dead. Health workers around the globe are still counting the dead as a result of persons being infected with this deadly virus. At that time, it wasn’t clear how the virus would spread. It didn’t take long for health professionals to detect that it could be spread by humans. And as news of the casualties from the virus grew, it began to leave in its trail, tears and sorrows.
The devastation has not only wrecked the social life of global citizens, but also gradually destroying the economic lives of countries around the world.
Apart from China where it first began, Italy has recorded a whopping death toll, with Spain, Iran and many other countries trailing in high death records. The fatality from the virus has since been growing steadily with no known cure.
As of Wednesday, March 25, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) says 51 cases are confirmed possible infections with one death here in Nigeria. Drastic steps, including partial and total shut down, have been taken by the Federal Government and state governments to curtail the spread of the virus.
In Benue, the state government, in February this year, set up an Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus (COVID-19) with medical experts as members to be battle ready and work out ways to contain the global pandemic from inflicting damage on the state. On Tuesday, March 24, the committee was scaled up with the deputy governor, Mr Benson Abounu, coming on board as chairman and other medical experts like Professor Godwin Achinge, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration), Benue State University; Dr Joseph Ngbea, a consultant pathologist, as new members.
Former chairman of the Action Committee and Commissioner for Health and Human Services, Dr Sunday Ongbabo, will now serve as secretary of the committee. The Chief Medical Director of Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi, Dr Peteru Inunduh, and Professor Terrumun Swende, the Chief Medical Director of Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi, are also members, among many senior government officials.
This underscores the seriousness the state governor places on the looming crisis.
Governor Samuel Ortom, while inaugurating the committee, charged them to, among other things, proactively monitor, supervise and coordinate Benue State government’s response to the dreaded disease. It was also mandated to ensure strict compliance to social distancing through public enlightenment campaign to sensitise the populace so as to stay safe. The committee was also asked to step up its surveillance on persons suspected to have symptoms of coronavirus in all the 23 local government areas of the state.
On Monday March 23, after an emergency state executive council meeting, the COVID-19 Committee was directed to begin daily updates to the public on preventive measures against the spread of the deadly virus. The government directed all schools in the state to conclude examinations and vacate on March 27. This is in line with the efforts by government to avoid any possible contact or spread of the virus among students.
To further drive home the seriousness the governor attaches to the safety of lives of the people, Governor Ortom, on Wednesday March 25, accompanied by members of the Action Committee Against COVID-19, held a two-hour interactive session on Radio Benue, Makurdi. Six other radio stations hooked up to the special programme to give a wider coverage. It was to sensitise the Benue public and put them at alert; and the commendations from this attest to the work being done to wade off this virus from the state.
Immediately after the radio programme, the governor inspected the two isolation and treatment centres set up in the state. One is located at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital (BSUTH) with a 30-bed capacity. More beds are to be added in the days to come. The BSUTH has two ventilators to be put to use, if cases of infected persons occur here. The second is at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) and it has a 96-bed space ready to take care of infected persons.
The Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the hospital, Dr Peteru Inunduh, while taking the governor round the newly-constructed wards, said “we are ready to take victims now.”
Inunduh told the governor that the hospital had four ventilators in good condition to take care of persons infected. Two more isolation centres are to be set up in Zone ‘A’ and Zone ‘C.’
In the event that the crisis escalates, the Benue State government is considering converting more public structures to be used as isolation and treatment centres.
After the inspection, the governor directed the immediate release of the sum of N16 million to the BSUTH to upgrade other critical facilities in the ward designated for use in the hospital to combat the virus. This is apart from the N10 million earlier released to the committee this week. Governor Ortom approved another tranche of N50 million on Tuesday, March 24, for immediate release to the committee. This is to enable the committee speed up preparations ahead of any eventuality. Interestingly, BSUTH has managed Lassa fever patients and is conversant with handling similar infectious cases like this coronavirus.
Other measures adopted by the Benue State government include a broad-based communication outlay with designated help telephone lines for people to call and volunteer information or for assistance. The state government has also directed individuals to practice social distancing, decongesting public gatherings in line with counsel from medical experts. Everyone is advised to use sanitizers anytime they go out or come into their homes or offices, as well as washing of hands regularly.
Civil servants on grade levels one to 12 have been asked to work from home for two weeks in the first instance. The most effective measure is for everyone to stay at home.
The governor has continuously used every opportunity he has with the people of the state in advising them to adhere to preventive measures and assist health workers in their various communities to succeed.
The governor has also issued matching orders to the Ministry of Health and the State Emergency Management Agency to take necessary actions to safeguard the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees. The directive from the governor is to ensure that concrete measures are adopted to provide and equip the health facilities in the IDPs and refugee camps to take care of any eventualities.
Top management officials from the state Ministry of Health have been meeting with the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) team who are in the state as well as the state Emergency Management Agency team and other stakeholders about preventive measures against any COVID-19 incident.
The Benue State governor is not leaving anything to chance and wants to ensure zero spread of the virus in the state. That is why he is leading at the front.
For now, there has been no reported case of the virus in Benue State, but the governor is determined to have a zero infection here. So, stick to the medical counsel. Be hygiene conscious. Limit travels or visitations to other states as part of measures to prevent the spread of the virus. It is incumbent on everyone to join hands to fight this pandemic. Imbibe the best hygienic practices as prevention. Stay home.
- Ikyur is the Principal Special Assistant on Media to the Benue State governor.