The challenge and opportunities of Coronavirus

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The outbreak of Coronavirus in different countries and the index case in Lagos Nigeria, although an unfortunate development, provides the opportunity for Nigeria to think through its health system and the official steps so far taken for the respect, protection and fulfillment of the right to health in Nigeria. Emerging evidence from the Coronavirus outbreak, officially known as COVID 19, shows that the right to health is inextricably tied to economic growth, development, jobs and other facets of social and economic life.

This discourse is contextualized by the theme of the National Health Policy 2016 which is; “promoting the health of all Nigerians to accelerate sociology-economic development”. The theme recognizes the fact that health is central to the life of the population and the nation. There is no Nigeria without Nigerians, and if Nigerians have to enjoy the constitutional right to life, their access to the best attainable standard of physical and mental health must be guaranteed. For all it takes to violate the right to life is to deny health supporting conditions to the point of abrogation. All it takes to deny some Nigerians of their life is to ignore the COVID 19 outbreak and other epidemics. COVID 19 is reported to have killed 2,911 persons, with over 84,000 persons infected across 48 countries.

Public confidence in the Nigerian Health System is low. Many rich Nigerians and even Nigerians in the middle- and low-income groups spend huge resources to travel abroad for medical treatment. The reasons for medical tourism include ill-equipped hospitals and facilities and absence of requisite skills and competencies for the treatment of some health conditions. Even public servants travel abroad at the public expense for medical treatment. However the National Health Act states in section 46 that: “Without prejudice to the right of any Nigerian to seek medical check-up, investigation or treatment anywhere within and outside Nigeria, no public officer of the Government of the Federation or any part thereof shall be sponsored for medical check-up, investigation or treatment abroad at public expense except in exceptional cases on the recommendation and referral by the medical board and which recommendation or referral shall be duly approved by the Minister or the Commissioner as the case may be”. However, this provision appears to be obeyed mainly in the breach. The funny aspect of COVID 19 is that Nigerian policy makers who poorly fund and manage the health systematize be compelled to stay back in Nigeria for the treatment and care of COVID 19 simply because most of the countries they would have gone to already have the disease and of course, no reasonable migration policy implementation will allow infected persons who are not nationals into their country. Thus, everyone will sink or float on the strength of facilities available in Nigeria.

Yes, Nigeria fought Ebola disease to a standstill some years ago, it is up to the country to show that it can replicate that feat by proper management of COVID 19. The expectation is that Nigeria through the leadership of the three tiers of government, in collaboration with civil society and the private sector will mobilize the maximum of available resources, for the immediate fight against COVID 19 and this will include human, financial, technological and information resources. It is now time to use the media to disseminate information on best health practices that would reduce exposure to the virus and the symptoms of COVID 19; mobilize the best medical hands for the struggle as well as provide adequate financial resources, even if it means the executive making a request for supplementary budgets specifically dedicated to eradicating COVOD 19.It is reported that Nigeria defeated Ebola at the cost of $180milion which at N360=1USD translates to N64.8billion.But the current COVID 19 seems to be more easily spread and has defied the health systems of many advanced countries. There is no vaccine yet for COVID 19.

COVID 19 is beyond life and death, it is slowing economic activities and growth in many parts of the world starting from China from where it originated. The demand for crude oil and energy which powers economic activities has slowed down to the extent that Nigeria’s crude oil now sells below the benchmark used in the medium-term expenditure framework and federal budget. The implication is that the federal and state deficits will increase, and more resources will need to be borrowed to fund budgets. Otherwise, a good part of the federal budget will become unimplementable and this will have negative consequences for infrastructure development, jobs and the growth numbers. With the tepid economic growth of 2.27 per cent in 2019, if COVID 19 is not brought under control, there may be a regression. At the global level, equities have lost one tenth of their value as investors are extremely cautious of the impact of COVID 19. The impact on global stock exchanges is in trillions of dollars. In Nigeria, just a day after the first case of COVID 19 was announced, the stock exchange lost N308 billion  – there were only two gainers and 41 losers at the end of the trading exercise last Friday. This represents a loss of 2.21 per cent and the exchange closed at N13.657trillion compared to N13.965trillion on Thursday. The impact of the outbreak is instant as itdid not wait for days to manifest in the economy.

The opportunities in the COVID challenge and threat is that it provides a seamless and natural public convening of all Nigerians in government, private sector and civil society who all want to be alive. The opportunity is that health issues is now on the front burner of national discourse and our health system will continue to be interrogated about its resourcing and preparedness to save lives. Such constant interrogation will ensure that the health system gets improvements and reposition itself for life saving and economic growth. The president, governor, senator, business chief executive, aristocrat and ordinary Nigerians, if they contract COVID 19 will have to be treated in a Nigerian health facility. Therefore, there will be more incentives to provide services which will save lives.

From every adversity, there is a silver lining. Let us minimize the challenges and take full advantage of the opportunities.

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