Senator Yahaya Oloriegbe, the chairman, Senate Committee on Primary Health and Healthcare Services, speaks on the challenges and measures adopted to combat the Coronavirus pandemic. OSARETIN OSADEBAMWEN brings excerpts
We learnt that the President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, insisted that those who travelled to the United Kingdom (UK) recently should submit themselves for testing. How has this been complied with?
We should not deceive ourselves; this is a serious business. They all came in from the airport, and we have various agencies of government at the various international airports. None of these agencies has complained to the Senate that any senator was opposed to any such process.
It was also gathered that the reality of this has set the Senate in a panic mode because they had been having handshakes with colleagues since their arrival before the disease escalated in the country?
Some of the claims are not facts. The Senate was never in a panic mode. You said last week they came and were shaking hands. I can tell you that throughout last week, the Senate was not having handshakes. Even the president of the Senate came out last week greeting, with both arms held together in a fist. Also in all our offices, we maintained strict personal hygiene; no shaking of hands and all offices have hand sanitizers which must be used by all visitors. I have maintained safe distances if you must see me. As at last week, safe isolation was advised. We should not sensationalise these issues. So far, I must tell you that there is no senator who has tested positive as far as I know.
Are you saying that all the senators who came in from London a high-risk country, even now, have submitted themselves to test to eliminate suspicion and panic?
The criterion for testing in Nigeria is not that when you are exposed, you are tested; that is for all members of the public, the entire Nigerians. What I’m saying is that the criteria for testing by the centre for disease control are not mainly about symptom because we do not have enough testing capacity in the country. As at last week, the total testing capacity was just 1000 doses. It has increased to about 10,000; that is how it will continue to increase as we place more not order. If you have contact or a person that has tested positive, you are advised to go on self-isolation. Note also that it is not everybody that has contact that is tested because if you test positive, they will need to continue testing the case for every two days. It means one person will be tested 10 times while under treatment.
One of the decisions we took on Monday was to tell the Federal Government to expand the testing capacity because the testing measure we were using before is a failed system, mainly the kind you will call PCR. Before we have only five centres in the country but they have been raised to six now. The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is acquiring new testing kits that will have a heavy machine. The machine that is used to test tuberculosis will be used for the kits because they can work with that machine and we have 200 of it. So, very soon, every state will have testing centres.
The presidency wrote to the president of the Senate about senators’ refusal to submit themselves for screening at the airports. What is the Senate doing to ensure compliance by them?
The critical issue remains that whether they are president, senators or whatever; they are still individuals. We should be concerned as leaders and as responsible corporate bodies about the people. Nigerians that are out there, what do we have for them? Those that are poor and are not privileged that are in the market and mix with everybody; those are the ones I think we should be asking: what are the preparations for them? Not to be talking about these people. Nobody, irrespective of status, is exempted from screening when we went to conduct an oversight at the Abuja airport; we gave a standing order that security agents should man the first entrance and nobody should be exempted from being screened.
Another order was that even those people that are coming through private jets were to be screened and when I had an interaction with them last week, they did not complain that lawmakers refused screening. The only complaint they made was that an army officer that even broke security was reported immediately. The letter you said you saw is fake. There was no such letter written to the president of the Senate. We asked him if there was any such letter. He said there was no such letter.
There is the issue of funding. It is critical because of the serious matter at hand. We are aware that not a dime has been released to NCDC. Given such scenario, how would it be possible for the body to combat the menace?
In the first instance, there is no appropriation for this emergency, After the Senate President visited Gwagwalada, here at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), we went there the next day as a committee that Thursday, the money was not released but when we left there to the Senate President and told him, he called the minister of finance; she confirmed that the money would be released to the and the NCDC has confirmed that they received N320 for Lassa fever and they got N650m by Friday of that week. However, the decision of today was that the federal government should come out with the a special fund a COVID 19 fund to support not only the federal but states because at the end of the day treatment and care will be at the lower level, that is the state level.
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