When the Coronavirus struck in China, killing some people and leaving many others severely ill, many countries were caught at a crossroads. Many countries in the west, especially the United States of America, were forced to shut down their operations in China.
Neighboring Japan announced that all schools in the country would be shut down as a measure to check the spread of the deadly virus.
Nigeria was also affected. Many Nigerian businessmen, who often travel to China to import goods, were stranded due to a decision by the Chinese Government to shut down most of the factories in the country and they could not return home for fear of spreading the disease.
Egypt recorded the first case of coronavirus infection in Africa. While the Egyptian authorities battled the virus and tried hard to ensure it did not spread, some incurable optimists and prayer warriors in Nigeria boasted that it would not find its way to any Nigerian city.
On the February 27, 2020, the worst happened as the first case of the coronavirus was recorded in Lagos.
An infected Italian had brought the disease from Milan to Lagos and perhaps, Ogun States. The disease was diagnosed at the virology laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital and the patient was quarantined at the Centre for Disease Control in Yaba.
If this first case is not well managed at this stage, it has the potential of wreaking havoc in the city that is regarded as the economic hub of the entire West Africa.
Lagos has a population over 20 million. Unless we are careful enough, something worse than the plague, which swept the entire Europe in the Middle Ages, may reinvent itself here.
The Lagos State Government has taken a proactive step to identify those who flew in with the Italian and the places he visited in Lagos. Much as this is a step in the right direction, how effective will it be, especially in a country where there is lack of adequate data?
The Ministry of Health and other relevant agencies must also ensure that unscrupulous elements don’t take advantage of this crisis to create widespread panic through the new and social media.
The authorities should tackle this new scourge in the same way that the Ebola virus was tackled nearly six years ago.
As gleaned from the Africa Report Magazine of July 20, 2014, a man who was infected with the disease travelled from Liberia to Lagos. The man, whose name was Patrick Sawyer, was not diagnosed with Ebola for three days, during which time nine health care workers were infected.
However, as soon as the diagnosis was confirmed, the health ministry, in collaboration with the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s office in Nigeria, declared an Ebola emergency. It also created facilities to isolate exposed people during the requisite 21-day monitoring period.
The ministry put an Incident Management System in place to coordinate responses. The centralised response system was vital in controlling the outbreak.
This same approach should be adopted to handle this new threat to the health of millions of Nigerians. The necessary structures should be put in place to combat the coronavirus. People who already manifest the symptoms of the disease should be promptly isolated, monitored and treated before being allowed to go back to the society.
Other measures should be in place to ensure that health workers don’t get infected in the course of their duty. We recall the bravery of the largely unsung heroine, Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh of First City Consult Hospital, who contracted Ebola while trying to stop Patrick Sawyer from leaving the hospital.
During the fight against Ebola in Nigeria, the Roman Catholic Church stopped its adherents from shaking hands. From this, it is clear that religious organisations, which are arguably the most influential in the country, can be co-opted to help in the fight against the coronavirus.
Clergymen can also assist the government to check the spread of the virus by preaching from the pulpit in order to more effectively drive the message home.
The use of hand sanitisers should be made compulsory in every public place and the mass media, especially the government controlled ones, should swiftly spring into action and penetrate the hearts of the masses in both Pidgin English and indigenous languages on the need to maintain the highest form of personal hygiene.
In the immortal words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr we shall overcome.
- Tony Ademiluyi wrote in from Lagos