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How FG Is Caging COVID-19 Pandemic: A perspective, By Louis Achi

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In much of Africa, but also in the most developed parts of the world, much about the coronavirus pandemic is unclear, including the knock-on health complications it may cause, how far it has actually spread, and whether antibodies can deliver long-lasting immunity. This reflects insufficient or contradictory data and statistical shortcomings.

The high mortality rates of COVID-19 in countries and regions like the US, India, South America, Europe and Asia simply indicate that humanity is grappling with an existential threat. Perhaps the understanding of this scenario persuaded US President Joe Biden to push for waivers to enable third-party countries to manufacture patented vaccines. Significantly, in Nigeria, the APC-led federal government has risen to the big health challenge and deployed sweeping protocols and processes to contain the pandemic.

It could be recalled that on January 23, 2020, the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee advised that “all countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of 2019-nCoV infection, and to share full data with WHO.” On January 30, 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 to be a public health emergency of international concern.

As of June 5, 2021, the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Nigeria were 166,730 with 2,029 active cases, 2,117 deaths and 162,584 discharged cases while 2,133,061 samples have been tested in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. These figures were updates from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Following WHO’s declaration of Covid-19 as a pandemic in January, 2020, the Federal Government of Nigeria initiated a Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to provide high-level strategic national response to the disease in Nigeria. The Federal Ministry of Health also activated an NCDC-led national COVID-19 Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) to coordinate the national public health response. At state-level, preparedness and response activities were and are still being coordinated through Public Health EOCs in each State.

The NCDC launched a campaign themed #TakeResponsibility. This is a call to all Nigerians and residents in the country to join forces and be proactive in taking greater individual and collective responsibility in preventing and controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria. Eighty-two laboratories within the NCDC network can test for COVID-19 in Nigeria. Also, some private laboratories have been accredited to test for COVID-19.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control is also coordinating efforts to increase genomic surveillance of the virus, to identify circulating variants. This includes genetic sequencing of viruses in positive cases among travellers from countries with widespread prevalence of variants of concern.

The federal government correctly recognized that as the spread of the coronavirus intensifies, Nigeria is already dealing with enormous social and economic challenges hitting the most vulnerable people the hardest. It recognized the need for a whole society approach to limit the spread of coronavirus and to cushion the potentially devastating impact it may have on people and the economy.

It, therefore, appreciated the fact that enhancing trust and cooperation, within and among communities and, between people and the Government is critical for a sustained fight against the pandemic. These obviously help shape its response strategies.

The Presidential Task Force (PTF) also closely interfaced with the UN for funding assistance. To enhance coordination of partnerships for effective resource mobilisation, accountability and collaborative response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNDP continues to support the Presidential Task Force (PTF) to compile reports on UN agency specific contributions towards the COVID-19 response in Nigeria.

UNDP as a member of the PTF committee on resource mobilisation and coordination, developed a public-facing resource tracking dashboard as a transparency and accountability tool to enhance awareness and understanding of ongoing efforts to mobilise resources.

To further ensure accountability UNDP initiated the procurement process of Price Water House Coopers (PwC) – to provide the PTF with financial management and reporting services including regular auditing of the support being directed towards the response.

The federal government, interfacing with other international and local platforms, has also initiated a raft of initiatives to engage the major associated challenges. These include – Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) under the UN Support to the National COVID-19 Multi-Sectoral Pandemic; Strengthening State level Operational Capacity in Surveillance, Infection Prevention and Control, and Community Engagement for effective response to COVID-19 in Nigeria.

Others include – Building Capacity of Healthcare Workers in Case Management and Establishing ICU Strength in Nigeria; Engaging Civil Society Organizations to reverse the negative impact of COVID-19 on equal access to essential health services; Rapid procurement of disease commodity packages; and Advance procurement of disease commodity packages.

The Central Bank of Nigeria deployed a number of complementary measures in tackling the impact of the coronavirus, including establishing a fund to support the country’s economy (of 50 billion naira; i.e. EUR 121 million), targeted at households and micro and small enterprises. The interest rate has also been cut, a moratorium has been announced on principal repayments for CBN intervention facilities and tax measures are being taken.

The CBN also adopted supportive economic stimulus measures (for example, loans, moratorium on debt repayments, etc.) to cushion the difficult period birthed by the pandemic.

Navigating with monetary policy, on 16 March, the CBN announced new measures: A 1-year extension of a moratorium on principal repayments for CBN intervention facilities; The reduction of the interest rate on intervention loans from 9 percent to 5 percent; and Strengthening of the Loan to Deposit ratio policy (i.e. stepped up enforcement of directive to extend more credit to the private sector).

It further created a NGN50 billion target credit facility for affected households and small and medium enterprises as well as granted regulatory forbearance to banks to restructure terms of facilities in affected sectors. Other measures include improving FX supply to the CBN by directing oil companies and oil servicing companies to sell FX to the CBN rather than the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

Targeting health sector reprieve, the CBN initiated an additional NGN100 billion intervention fund in healthcare loans to pharmaceutical companies and healthcare professionals, intending to expand/build capacity. It also identified key local pharmaceutical companies that will be granted funding facilities to support the procurement of raw materials and equipment required to boost local drug production.

Meanwhile, scientists and public health officials are working hard to identify the source of the SARS-CoV-2 which is the virus that causes COVID-19. The initial transmission appeared to be from an animal source, but there has been person-to-person transmission in countries.

The new variants being reported are still respiratory viruses; so the basic tools will not change, and they will all continue to work. In fact, they have become more important, but the federal government may need to be stricter: less time outdoors, better masks, better ventilation and more disinfection of high-touch surfaces.

It’s important scientifically and comforting to know that vaccinated people are a lot less likely to get sick in the first place. One hundred million vaccinated Nigerians will mean 100 million people with much less (or hardly any) risk for any symptomatic COVID-19, especially severe disease. That’s an enormous gain. To-date, many Nigerians have been vaccinated.

Current mathematical models of SARS-CoV-2 transmission and control show that physical distancing can mitigate the pandemic and this has subsequently been backed up by empirical analyses of related case data. The other tools like masking up and disinfection of surfaces that are touched often, especially in public facilities are also critical.

But ultimately, it has been scientifically established that vaccines represent the ultimate biological weapon of caging COVID-19 and its emerging mutants. More recent human history attests to this.

With little question, the COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge we have faced since World War II. Since its emergence in Asia late last year, the virus has spread to every continent except Antarctica.

But the pandemic is much more than a health crisis. It’s also an unprecedented socio-economic crisis. Stressing every one of the countries it touches, it has the potential to create devastating social, economic and political effects that will leave deep and longstanding scars. In spite of the tough difficulties, the federal government, under the sharply focused leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, has demonstrated it has the capacity, ability and health sector leadership to cope. This is just a perspective in the multifarious approaches being adopted by the Buhari government in its containment efforts.  There are other perspectives for interrogation. Over!

▪︎Louis Achi contributed this piece from Abuja.

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