By Olayinka Ajayi
Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, in this interview, speaks on the efforts to ramp up Covid-19 testing amid criticisms that the authorities aren’t doing enough to test for the virus with a view to determining the extent of community transmission in Nigeria.
With the increasing cases of infected persons in Nigeria, is there need to worry?
Yes, anytime we see increase in cases, we feel concerned but we are not surprised about it because we look at the capacity of the health system to cope. You may see that in other countries, the figure is getting higher dramatically and more frightening. But in our country, it is not like that. We are hoping and praying that it doesn’t go that way. A good measure of it does not only depend on the government or the Ministry of Health. It depends on all of us to know that there’s no medicine to cure it and there is no vaccine to prevent it. There is need to take measures that will keep us safe that these horrifying figures we see in Europe do not come up in this part of the world.
How is the effort being made with regards to prevention and treatment?
Internationally, there’s a lot of effort going on find a cure but for those of us that studied medicine, we know that viruses is fought by the anti-viruses that your body develops over time. The stronger, able bodied people develop anti-viruses but those who have underlying sicknesses like hypertension, diabetes, etc would be more susceptible.
So, treatment, with regards to medicines and drugs, there’s none that is yet approved. People have tried various antibiotics and anti-retoviral drugs, they are still being tried. We are taking part in the trial by the World Health Organisation, but we do not yet have an answer to the cure. And also we do not yet have a vaccine. Various groups are working on vaccine but the general belief is that we cannot get it in the next 18 months.
In Nigeria, based on different trial drugs in Lagos, Kaduna, are we close to discovering anything so far?
About 10 states are participating in WHO sponsored program but we do not have a definitive answer. Even highly respected journal has not shown that these trials are working. So we are not yet near finding an answer.
With regards to the clamouring for churches and mosques to reopen, are you bothered when social distancing is thrown into the wind?
Yes we are concerned about that. Many believe that if people sneeze or cough into the air, many can become infected. But other stories going on now show that even if someone speaks or shouts, he also release droplets which also could be infectious. So the question of distancing gives more meaning when you look at that kind of scenario.
So looking at that, the induction of social distancing is very necessary. In that circumstance, the mask proves very useful as a barrier between you and the other person so that he does not spill any droplet while speaking to you. So it creates mutual protection between you and the next person. It tends to be a battle trying to beat the system there.
But we are sure that with the system being beefed up, the infection and disease will be better managed and the non-pharmaceutical capacity will all improve to control the rate of spread. But I don’t think we’re doing so badly but we’re not doing as well as we will like to do to see a flat curve but we haven’t reached the peak where we can be comfortable. We are not there at all.
So we have not gotten to the point that we could say we have peaked?
I don’t think so. We have not peaked yet. There are areas where the virus tends to be spreading more and where the information on how to handle the virus is not so spread out.
The Chinese medical personnel in Nigeria seem to have their stay. What makes them special?
This is a question for the Minister of Interior. How long they stay depends on the visa they were given. But I think that they are staff members of a Chinese company, CCCEC, and if they are staff members of the company, I believe they do have regulations and the way they rotate their staff. I cannot say anything about that. But the Minister of Interior said they are here and that they are sponsored by their company.
Couldn’t they have gone back in the same manner they came during lockdown?
First, let me correct something, the company brought us 16 tonnes of medical supplies at a time were looking at the threat of coronavirus coming into our country, at a time we needed supplies to protect our front line workers.
It is the 16 tonnes that came from China that I went to receive at the airport and these gentlemen were in the same aircraft. So I also welcomed them and thanked them for coming but basically the 16 tonnes was the reason I went there. But the rest of the question is for the Minister of Interior.
Are you not worried about their overstaying?
The Ministry of Interior has to answer that.
Going by prediction, are you not concerned about the number of Covid deaths?
We are always very sad when we lose anyone as a doctor of many years. One of the things we don’t like to lose is a patient. So I am very sad when lives are lost but we make sure that our fatality figures do not go up. That is why we prepare and make sure that our healthcare workers do not become victims. We even consider suggestions from traditional practitioners to see if there is any value in what they bring in a bid to reduce the fatality rates.
And we are glad that we are not having the same figures when compared with Europe. For anyone to think we are now going to rest on our oars, we are not going to rest on our oars. We still want to reduce fatalities from Covid-19. We will do everything we can to flatten the curve. We listened to advice from China, from Korea and the United States via teleconferences. The thing about scientists is that they don’t think they know it all.
What is the situation over the Madagascar medication?
The Madagascar herb is supposed to be handed over to the Ministry of Health, and we send it first to NAFDAC and then to our research institute. And we compare and ascertain the purpose for which it is intended.
Have traditional practitioners come up with their materials for verification yet?
Yes, I have received few proposals from traditional practitioners, people who claimed to have remedies. In fact some have sent me samples and these samples were sent to our research institute and we are looking into the results coming from them. NAFDAC will test if they are fit for human consumption, and that they do not have toxic effect, then the research institute will check for the efficacy and dosage. So we have to rely on our research institute.
Are you happy with the way our Covid-19 tests are done?
Yes, we will like to do more, but a lot of it depends on getting reagents and the very competitive nature of getting the reagents. We hope that in coming weeks, we will get more reagents and, above all, we will start using our gene expert machines which are used to test tuberculosis and can be converted to test coronavirus. In coming weeks, we shall be able to ramp up testing.
- Interview first aired on Channels Television.