By Omeiza Ajayi – Abuja
The Federal Government has said it did not beg Madagascar to supply its Covid-19 syrup to Nigeria, explaining that the East African country donated the elixir to Nigeria and it accepted it in the spirit of African brotherhood.
This was as it announced that it has put in place measures to rethink its National Response to the Covid-19, saying emerging developments indicate that there is a need for a change in tactics.
These were disclosed Thursday in Abuja during the daily briefing of the Presidential Taskforce PTF on Covid-19.
Government added that while it would continue to look inwards to see how it can defeat the pandemic, it would however also look outwards as Covid-19 is not a Nigerian outbreak but a global disease.
It asked state governments and security operatives to also allow farmers access to their farms as the planting season begins, saying food security is critical to national security.
Also, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, told journalists to refrain from asking him about the whereabouts of a 15-member Chinese Medical Team whose entry into Nigeria on April 9 had generated a wave of backlash from Nigerians.
Elixir from Madagascar
Chairman of the PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha dismissed speculations that Nigeria might have asked Madagascar for a supply of its Covid-19 organic instead of promoting local researchers for a cure.
He said; “The issue of Madagascar. Let me explain that Nigeria did not ask Madagascar for any solution. That has to be very clear because I have seen some narratives out there giving credence to a line of story that, for me, I think is only distractive. Nigeria did not ask.
“The Madagascan government decided to airlift quantities meant for African countries and so that of West Africa was airlifted to Guinea-Bissau.
“So, all the members of ECOWAS have their commodities off-loaded in Guinea-Bissau and that was the one I referred to, that we were making arrangements to evacuate but the impression out there was as if we abandoned homegrown solutions and we were looking for Madagascan solution.
“We did not ask for it, but it was taken in the spirit of brotherly love, or African brotherly love to Guinea-Bissau and we have asked our Ambassador there to establish the location, the quantity etc.
“He has done that. We have to make an arrangement for its freighting out of Guinea-Bissau. There are no flights, so there are so many things we have to consider.
“If we are air-freighting through air cargo, that has its process. So, please can you help us explain to Nigerians that Nigeria did not ask for it. It was brought for West African countries, similarly for other parts of Africa.
“The consignment meant for West Africa was taken to Guinea-Bissau and every ECOWAS country was asked to go to Guinea-Bissau and pick. It is not our priority for now. It is not a focus.
“There are other things that we are dealing with to make sure that we contain the spread in our nation. We will do that, but that does not in any way downplay what we have asked our researchers and our scientists to do.
“In the last one or more weeks, I have consistently made this appeal and those in the medical community know the protocol to follow. I get letters on a daily basis with claims of inventions.
“This afternoon, I received one with even the consignment and so I was wondering whether I was going to bring it here to try it on some of you. That is not the protocol.
“The protocol is to submit these things to the appropriate organization that has the responsibility, that its role was established by government through an Act of Parliament for it to go through the processes of validation.
“It is not the responsibility of the Taskforce to validate these things. So, my appeal to our scientists and our researchers is: do not bother sending them to the Taskforce.
“Send them to the institutions that have been set up by government to do their job and we know the institutions. NAFDAC is there. It is a body acknowledged and recognized all over the world not only for homegrown cure but anything you want to bring into this country and that is why all such things carry NAFDAC numbers.
“If you send it to the Chairman of the Taskforce, will he give you a NAFDAC number? How? The Taskforce is a body that has been put in place to provide a National Response to the pandemic.
“We will not take over the responsibilities of the agencies of government that have existed in the last couple of decades, and who have the primary responsibility of doing what they ought to do,” he declared.
Mustapha reminded states and security operatives that farmers are essential workers and should be allowed to access their farms in order to guarantee food security.
He said; “You will recall that when the new measures were rolled out and published, we ensured that certain economic activities pertaining to food production and distribution were exempted.
“This, for the avoidance of doubts includes farming activities. We recognize the fact that we are in the planting season and the nation cannot afford to prevent our hardworking farmers from going to their farms.
“We, therefore, use this medium to reemphasize that farmers fall within the list of exemptions and urge State Governors, Local Government Authorities and security agencies to please allow them to carry out their activities. Our food security is critical to our national security.
“The PTF welcomes the resolution of the Nigeria Governors Forum to take steps to ramp up testing and provide the prescribed minimum number of bed spaces in their isolation/treatment centres.
“We, in turn, assure the States that the NCDC will continue to provide technical support and standardization guidelines. It will also continue to firmly pursue its surveillance activities nationwide.
“We urge the States to recognize the essence of a strong partnership and always allow overarching public interest to prevail”.
On the level of compliance with public safety protocols, Mustapha said a lot still needs to be done.
“I must, however, state that our initial evaluation point firmly in the direction of a high level of non-compliance which, as we have often warned, portend grave self-inflicted danger.
“This fact has made it imperative for me to re-echo our call for taking personal responsibility.”
Displeased with returnees
“The PTF reported the progress made with the evacuation of some Nigerians from the UAE, UK & USA. We also informed you about the mandatory quarantine protocol.
“Nigerians have in recent days been served with different audio-visual clips by some of these returnees. The PTF is saddened by the conduct of some of the returnees who fail to adhere to the conditions attached to their quarantine.
“I strongly urge them to obey the rules in the facilities and also urge their friends and relations to recognize the contagious nature of the disease by desisting from visiting them.
“Complying is in the interest of the visiting relation and in the overall public interest”, Mustapha said.
Rethinking Nigeria’s Response
Director General, Nigerian Centre for Disease Control NCDC, Dr Chikwe Iheakwazu said Nigeria cannot isolate itself in the fight against Covid-19 because it is a global outbreak.
Iheakwazu said; “It has become clearer to all of us that we will have to live with this virus for a long time to come and living with it means not only saving lives from the virus but also saving lives from all the other things that afflict us.
“So, we must keep our primary healthcare working. The work of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency has become more important than ever before.
“Over the last few days, there have been a lot of very emotional and actually, correct to some extent, statements about looking inwards.
“There is nothing more important that we should do than look inwards but we must also remember that this is not a Nigerian outbreak. It is a global outbreak and we have to engage globally.
“That global engagement starts from Science and understanding the factors driving this outbreak in Nigeria and globally.
“Slowly, we are rethinking our response at the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control NCDC from one of just going around and trying to subdue the impact of the outbreak to one that is increasingly science-led, evidence-led.
“We want to dig deeper into what is driving this outbreak in certain parts of the country and use that to inform the response. So, how has this changed our work?
“Over the last few days, we are beginning to focus a bit more on the research side of things. We brought together TETFUND, the NUC and under the Minister of state for Health to start thinking about what the research priorities are for us in Nigeria and how we can drive this research not just in the long term but also in the short term and how we can now use this to improve our own guidelines, our training and make it a point of reference for our own response”, he added.
Stop asking me about Chinese Doctors
Ehanire said he would really be grateful if Nigerians stopped asking him about the whereabouts of the Chinese medical team.
He said; “On the Chinese Doctors, I want to first of all explain that I think not all of them were doctors and I think that I heard that some of them are Technicians but they are staff of CCECC.
“The Ministry of Health is not their host. So, we cannot always explain what happened to them or where they are. There seems to be a lot of interest in these doctors but they are staff of the company and I think they are on the company visa.
“So, I will be very happy if you do not ask me about where they are because they are not really our guests in that sense. But we have been able to learn some things from them by interacting with them on their experiences in their country. We have shared experiences as to what they did in their country, how they managed their Covid-19”.
Vanguard recalls that the PTF had on April 6 defended the coming of the Chinese team, saying every country needs all the help it can get and that even the “almighty United States of America USA” is seeking external help.
According to the PTF, the Chinese will only offer their experiences and expertise as they are not accredited by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria to ply their trade in the country.
“He, however, said no country on earth has greater experience than China when it comes to managing the Covid-19.
The SGF had said; “One major support that has attracted public commentaries is the offer by CCECC, a Chinese company to import about 256 equipment and items in different quantities, notable amongst which are, 1,300,000 medical masks, over 150,000 pieces of assorted personal protective equipment as well as 50 medical ventilators.
“The company has also proposed, on its own, to sponsor public health experts to help strengthen our public health capacity and advise on processes and procedures.
“However, I wish to clarify that all Countries of the world are seeking assistance and are receiving help in the fight against COVID-19. Even the ‘almighty’ United States is looking for heal elsewhere.
“The support coming from China is a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative by CCECC, a company with total value of infrastructure contracts worth over $10 billion in Nigeria.
“The professionals that have been invited from China are public health specialists and medical engineers that will support Nigeria’s capacity in managing the Pandemic on advisory basis when necessary, while drawing from the experience of the Chinese.
“In no way shall there be case management and interface with patients. They will train our manpower, advise on procedures and methods, install and test the equipment donated before handing them over.
“I, therefore, use this medium to appeal to our medical professionals to see the positive aspects of this gesture as an extension of development in the field of medicine.
“The PTF recognizes and respects the competence and capability of Nigerian Doctors and other medical personnel. This is a state of war against the coronavirus and time should not be devoted to unhelpful controversies”.