Of improved medical care, palliatives
OBVIOUSLY, Covid-19 pandemic will change the way the world does things. One can only hope Nigeria is not left behind in the mantra of catering for citizens beyond what successive governments had rendered in terms of prompt response to emergency situations and distribution of relief materials when it matters most. Ninety million Nigerians live below the poverty line, and possibly, the figure might have witnessed a surge due to year difference in reportage. It is the responsibility of a responsible and responsive government to do the best it can for this most number of people in the shortest possible time by building an effective social security system that caters for the needs of this vulnerable larger chunk of our populace. The remaining millions should not feel safe behind the gates and tall walls of their homes if the poor have nothing to eat. It behoves the government to learn a lesson from global threats and make robust plans to help this vulnerable group through better social security system and services. As the nation continues to grapple with the effects of the coronavirus on individuals and businesses, Nigerians have expressed concerns with the level of preparedness by the Federal Government.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the most common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, tiredness, dry cough among others. And while no cure has been established yet for the disease, social distancing, use of face masks and sanitizers, among others, have been suggested as ways by which its spread could be curtailed. Ever since the first outbreak was discovered in Nigeria on 27 February 2020, NCDC, the government agency headed by Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu has swiftly responded by setting up multiple testing and isolation centers across the country while also developing regimen for the treatment of infected persons. While the swift responses provided by Ministry of Health, the Nigerian Centre for Diseases Control and State governments have been commendable, the nation still has a large coast to cover in keeping up with the lethal virus. The bad state of our health infrastructure has exposed government neglect of the sector, which now makes the entire populace vulnerable to the infectious disease. With less than ten testing centers in 36 states of the federation and with 20 states having already recorded an index case, the majority of Nigerians do not know their status. Compared to South Africa which currently conducts 5000 tests each day, Nigeria can only conduct a few dozens COVID-19 tests per day, leaving a large proportion of the lower and middle classes to self diagnosis and over-the-counter medications, contrary to the WHO’s strategy of maximum testing to effectively identify and isolate infected individuals.
Apart from the problems posed by inadequate testing centers, the nation also has a shortage of isolation centers. Lagos with a population of about 20 million inhabitants has less than five isolation centers, suggesting that the state may not be able to curtail an explosion of positive cases when such occur. Essential items, including face masks, hand gloves and sanitizers, which could be used to prevent the spread of the virus, are also in short supply and a large number of people still go out without these mitigants. The failure of the government to regulate prices has seen the costs of these essentials skyrocket and often becoming unaffordable for the average person. Healthcare workers, who are the only line of public defense against COVID-19, also share a part of our inefficiencies as they are periodically forced to down tools to demand improved remuneration and better work conditions. Apart from being available in very reduced numbers, health care workers in the country are poorly trained and lack personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep them safe from an infection which has killed more than 60 doctors in Italy alone.
The Federal Government is now engaging the private sector as critical stakeholders in the fight against coronavirus. Currently, donations into the government-initiated COVID-19 relief funds are more than N10 billion and are likely to increase further. These funds should be utilised for the intended purposes. Multiple testing centers should be set up to increase our capacity for identifying people who have the virus even when they are asymptomatic. Isolation centers should be established with state-of-the-art equipment to ensure that infected persons get the best treatments. Sanitizers, face masks, hand gloves and other items should be distributed freely to the entire populace. Personal protective equipment should be made available to our doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to keep them safe as they treat persons infected with the virus. In addition, remuneration for health care workers should be upwardly reviewed as an incentive to motivate them. The government should also resolve existing issues with health sector unions to forestall unnecessary industrial actions.
There should be increased funding for our universities and research centers to increase efforts aimed at finding cure for the debilitating disease. More doctors and nurses should also be recruited to raise our present figures. COVID-19 has in arguably dealt a blow to our economy. Within days of the lock-down order declared by President Muhammadu Buhari, individuals and businesses started counting their losses. Airlines, manufacturing companies, services organisations, transport companies, small businesses, to mention but a few, are under locks as Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states continue to observe the shutdown directive.In order to cushion the effects this is likely to have on the populace, government should come up with a more responsive economic stimuli to help people keep their jobs and also ensure that our vital companies are able to continue operation after the virus is defeated. Periods of trial such as this often present developmental opportunities for countries. (see the rest on www.tribuneonlineng.com)
In the post-COVID-19 era, Nigeria should witness an industrial revolution where it is able to manufacture most of its needs with less dependence on importation. Our health sector, which has always been neglected, should now receive more attention, while more affordable housing scheme, accessible health care, food security and e-granary central data system collation should be effected. Without mincing words, the past and present governments did well, but weneed to do much more.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
- Adepoju, a member of Libra Advocacy For Development Organization, writes in from Abuja.
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