•NMA, health workers’ unions say it’s premature in face of rising infection
•Rescind decision now, JOHESU, NUAHP urge FG
•Big mistake by FG — Pharmacists;
•Don’t ease lockdown, says PDP Reps Caucus
By Sola Ogundipe, Health Editor, Chioma Obinna & Levinus Nwabughiogu
The Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Joint Health Sector Unions, JOHESU, and Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals, NUAHP, have again warned the Federal Government against easing the lock-down on the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Lagos and Ogun states in the wake of coronavirus. Easing of the lock-down begins today.
This is even as members of the Peoples Democratic Party Caucus in the House of Representatives yesterday, asked President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately rescind the decision to ease the lockdown, sayibng relaxing it would increase spread of the disease.
According to the health experts, it is ill-advised to ease the lock-down because of the rising rate of infections in the three areas and other parts of the country.
The NMA has persistently kicked against easing of the lock-down since President Buhari announced it last Monday.
President of the NMA, Dr Francis Faduyile, urged the country to learn from its neighbour, Ghana, where the same action produced a 100 per cent increase in infection rate in one week.
“Agencies of state should intensify efforts through mass enlightenment campaigns beyond current attempts to explain the dangers inherent in easing the lock-down prematurely in the face of rising infection rates; and also for the palliatives to reach the needy,” he said.
The NMA President urged government at all levels to encourage health workers by providing Personal Protective Equipment, PPE, incentives and communication tools to interact with peers within the country and overseas.
Noting that 113 healthcare workers in Nigeria have been reportedly infected with COVID-19, Faduyile urged all doctors and other health workers not to let down their guards in adhering strictly to infection prevention and control protocols.
He re-emphasized the fact that all health workers should wear proper PPE before attending to any patient, saying every patient is a potential COVID-19 patient.
He also expressed dismay at the delay in distributing the available PPE to all public and private hospitals to prevent, detect and treat more patients as it ought to, adding that bureaucracy would not be a clog in the wheels of progress.
JOHESU warns FG
On its part, the Joint health Sector Unions, JOHESU, admonished the Federal Government not to hesitate to reverse its decision to ease lock-down restrictions on Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
JOHESU Chairman, Comrade. Biobebelemoye Josiah, also said government should consult widely with stakeholders and the private sector in the bid to tackle the menace.
Josiah said: “I have received this development with cautious optimism because we appreciate the dilemma of government which is that it is becoming obvious there were security issues because the generality of people that rely on daily income were becoming apprehensive and this was among what led to insecurity scare in Lagos and government had to deal with that menace.
“However, the reality is that we cannot wish away what is purely scientific. We are not doing too well presently in our bid to fight this menace of COVID-19. In fact, even when we continue to see that testing is not adequate, we still see that we turn out unbelievable figures on daily basis. It can only get worse without divine intervention in the new week when people will be out and become more vulnerable. It is not a win-win situation for us.
“We would advise that government must look at what happens over the next few days and if there is need to review this decision, to do so, the time of crisis is not a time to take decisions based on emotional considerations.
“We pray for mercy because it is becoming glaring that we do not have a health system that can cope with this challenge. That is not to take away from the efforts of our health workers from community pharmacists, lab scientists, nurses, doctors, cleaners and generality of all healthcare workers in the health facilities and isolation centres.”
Noting that the gallantry of the health workers is appreciated, he said there are still shortages in capacity building and competences.
“These are the capacities we have been highlighting over the years, we have been telling government that you cannot run a health system where there is premium on only one profession to the detriment of others. The price we pay for such negligence is some of the things we are dealing with now,’’ he said.
Asking government to consult more widely, the JOHESU boss said: “Government needs to consult with a wider spectrum of stakeholders on this menace. For instance, you need to secure the buy-in on a wider section of healthcare professionals.
‘’There are those close to the private sector that we are not utilizing their services as we should. We are not reaching out as much as we should
‘’The other level is the neglect of the religious dimension, This is a very religious nation and in setting up national committee, government should be mindful of the role in situations like this, so we need to partner with the bishops, pastors and imams, they command very huge followership
Big mistake by govt — Pharmacists
In his response, Chairman of the Association of Community Pharmacists, ACPN, Samuel Adekola, said the government made a big mistake easing lock-down restrictions.
“It is important to start from where the government made a big mistake. The initial approach to lock-down in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja was very defective ab initio. What government should have done at the critical moment should have been to lock down the entire country. Such a lock-down would have placed a lot of premium on the closure of interstate borders.
“You see, what has happened to us in the last three weeks centres around many of the other states where this infection has spread to. You discover most of them were people who left the epicentre — Lagos — and went to places like Nasarawa, Ekiti, etc. That was the very first mistake the government made, but unfortunately that has encouraged the spread of the disease.
“The government earlier made two major mistakes when the leadership of JOHESU paid government a visit precisely on February 6, there was no calamity at that time, and government was advised to close the ports of entry at that time.
“But government did not do it on time and followed up with mismanagement of the lock-down which should have been a national lock-down rather than restricting it to three states and now in Kano, unfortunately, things have gone really bad and it will take the grace of God to solve the problem.
“Whether it is timely to relax the lock-down, with common sense, the time is not auspicious for relaxing this lock-down, the infections is still raging and consuming like wildfire. It has become very dangerous and may consume even more. So, I pray that the event of the next few days will not bring a national tragedy.
“Don’t forget, this is the type of thing that happened in Italy which came up with premature relaxation of lock-down and there was a major spread of community infections in Italy. That was when they began to witness major fatalities on a daily basis.
“Of course, we realize that the economy will be locked down but the truth at the end of the day is that it is only when you are alive that you can talk of prosperity. It is only when you are alive you can think of doing another thing.
“You cannot do any other thing when you are in the intensive care unit. We would advise the government to critically appraise this decision in the days ahead, especially if in the next two or three days the figures continue to rise.”
‘Govt treating COVID-19 with kid gloves’
On its part, Nigerian Union of Allied Health Professionals, NUAHP, yesterday expressed concern over the increase in reported cases of COVID-19, saying the present rate of spread of the virus should not be treated with kid-gloves by the federal government.
The union demanded immediate reversal of the decision by Federal Government to relax the lock-down in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states.
In a press statement, the health workers stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic curve in the country was yet to be flattened.
The statement jointly signed by the National President, Dr. Obinna Ogbonna, and General Secretary, Comrade Martin Adekunle Egbanubi, noted that as a union with members on the front lines, the union could not but caution the federal and affected state governments to continue with the lockdown until adequate measures had been taken to contain it.
“The nation should not be thrown into an astronomical spread of unimaginable proportion. We must not forget the fact that the deficit of health professionals, medical consumables and facilities in our country would not be able to handle whatever upsurge that may arise due to the high incidences, especially the community transmission that is being currently witnessed in some parts of the country.
“As of today, Nigeria has recorded 2,388 infected cases and a total of 85 deaths. According to Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control, NCDC, only 16,588 cases have been tested so far in a population of about 200 million people.
“We should avoid repeating the initial national mistake of ignoring our call for early stringent measures at all entry points into Nigeria at the onset of this pandemic. This premature relaxation is suicidal and if allowed, has the capacity of eroding all our gains in the fight against COVID-19,” the union said.
Demanding immediate reversal of the decision to relax lock-down in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states, the union also called for the procurement of more testing kits and establishment of more testing centres and isolation centres nationwide.
It also demanded the strengthening and encouragement of research on the development of vaccines, involvement of more healthcare workers on the front-lines, support for the textile and garment industries and laboratories in the production of face masks, rapid test kits, hand sanitizers and ventilators.
Other demands made by the union include provision of more Personal Protective Equipment, PPE, for front-line workers, expansion of testing beyond those who have contact with index cases, immediate deployment of Rapid Response Team, RRT, to support response in all states of the federation, and continuous training of front-line health workers and others.
The union also demanded decontamination of most visited public places, especially offices and market places; groundswell advocacy on compulsory wearing of face masks, hand washing and maintaining of social and physical distancing; provision of more incentives to further motivate the frontline workers, especially those in the health sector and security agencies.
It equally called for deployment of health workers who understand viral warfare better to lead and supervise the security team in the lock-down operation of borders and extension of palliatives to more vulnerable Nigerians.
The union insisted that the government should not ease the lockdown without first meeting these demands.
Don’t ease lockdown now— PDP Reps caucus
Meanwhile, members of the Peoples Democratic Party Caucus in the House of Representatives have asked the President to immediately rescind the decision to ease the lockdown.
The caucus said that opening the economy without adequate precautionary measures beyond hand washing and face masking was precarious, saying it would trigger the spread of the virus.
In a statement signed by the leader of the caucus, Kingsley Chinda from Rivers State in Abuja yesterday, the caucus said human life is sacrosanct and, therefore, paramount to any responsible individual, organization or government to preserve it.
Chinda said the decision is unfortunate, noting that the government went to sleep all the while without taking adequate protective measures.
He said: “It is very apparent that the government is clearly more concerned about the economic benefits of reopening an already weak and ailing economy than the preservation of human life. This is without doubt a very callous, insensitive and most unfortunate response by the Federal Government. The only plausible alternative to this is that the government has run out of ideas on what to do.
“Furthermore, available evidence and statistics from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, show that Nigeria is far from winning the fight against COVID-19, as even within the lock-down, rather than reduce, the casualty rate and number of those that tested positive to the virus is increasing on daily bases.
“Clearly, this should be a matter of great concern to all reasonable and well meaning persons, irrespective of political, religious or tribal affiliations and/or considerations.
“As a caucus in the House of Representatives, we are deeply worried about this and accordingly, hereby, express in very strong and unambiguous terms our utmost dismay, concern and total opposition to the stance of the Federal Government to prematurely relax and/or lift the lock-down order in the affected places earlier mentioned, and to hurriedly ask workers back to their offices, while the virus continues to ravage our people and our cities.
“We begin to wonder if the government had no plans when it ordered the lockdown as lockdowns are not ordered for the fun of it but to curtail the spread and allow government time to put in place polices and measures to be adopted in public places to check further spread and manage the affected cases.
“Unfortunately, while the lock-down was on, our government went to sleep on their core responsibility and was busy mouthing palliatives without visible action taken.
“Also instructive to note is that whilst declaring a relaxation of the lockdown order, beyond the usual campaign on hand washing; use of hand sanitizers, face masks and social distancing, the Federal Government obviously did not put in place any other effective measure designed to stop the spread of the dreaded virus.
“Already, the situation in Lagos and Kano states is scary. These cases and more are enough to cause us even greater anxiety and concern. We also take cognizance of the fact that the President Buhari-led Federal Government would undoubtedly be failing very woefully in its responsibility of preserving the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) which he swore to defend and protect, which provides in Section 14(2) (b) that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”
“Equally important and compelling is the provision of Sections 17(3) (c) and (d) of the same Constitution. Whereas Section 17(3) (c) provides that the State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that “the health, safety and welfare of all person in employment are safeguarded and not endangered or abused’, Section 17 (3)(d) provides that the State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that “there are adequate medical and health facilities for all persons.
“Incidentally, over six weeks of the pandemic, there is no clear government policy for public places like markets; work place; public transport etc. Medical facilities are very inadequate. Several states have no testing centres and received no support whatsoever from the Federal Government, despite humongous sums spent so far, both from public coffers and donations from individuals and organisations.
“It is somewhat difficult, obviously very surprising and disturbing to decipher the genuine reason behind the Federal Government’s sudden decision to relax the lockdown order in the midst of the prevailing and ravaging COVID-19 pandemic, taking into cognisance the experience of other countries where lockdown was prematurely relaxed.’
“We commend the attitude and stance of the various state governments and the Nigerian Governors Forum in taking clear and decisive actions in the fight against COVID-19 in their respective states, and more importantly for the proactive stand of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, to contain spread of the virus in their domain.
“In the circumstances, the PDP caucus of the House of Representatives demands as follows: That President Buhari rescinds his decision to relax the lock-down order and allow the lock-down remain operational for another 14 days from Monday, May 4, 2020 to May 18, 2020.
“Within the extended period, come up with clear public policies (covering Markets; Offices; Factories; public transport; etc) to be adopted for containment of the spread of the virus; set up functional testing centers in all the states of the federation and FCT.”