By Tordue Salem – Abuja
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire told the House of Representatives on Tuesday, that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, is open to the possibility of using local herbs to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, but insisted that the Nigeria Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development must first certify any such remedy.
The Minister who made the disclosure when the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 briefed members of the House of Representatives, also said it was wrong for hospitals to turn back patients as a result of fear of COVID-19.
He said the government was not ruling out the possibility of using local herbs for the treatment of COVID-19, adding that what the government was saying was that those who claim to have found cure should subject it to test by the Nigeria Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development.
He said local herbs can be categorised unto drugs that can cure the virus or those that can reduce the symptoms, adding that the body must be able to build the required antibodies to neutralise the virus.
Ehanire said “before now, it was said that Chloroquine can destroy the virus. But test are still going on in that regard. We have to test the efficacy of local drugs to see if it can kill or virus and also to find out that is in the process of killing the virus, it can affect the body. So, the Institute will carry out the required test on the local drugs find out how it”.
He warned that doing so may result to another round of national health emergency since leaving other ailments unattended to can be fatal.
The Minister also said many people who are infected with the virus may not display any symptom and may innocently be infecting others with it, explaining that this explains the need for self-isolation and staying at home.
He said those without symptom are capable of transferring the virus to others with less immunity and this is dangerous. The solution is to keep everybody in isolation.
While describing the situation in Kano as a sad, he said the Nigerian government is currently participating in various research to find a solution to the pandemic.
He, however, dismissed claims that the mysterious death in Kano was caused by COVID-19, adding that the PTF was still waiting for the result of tests carried out in Kano and therefore was not in a position to attribute the cause of death in the state to the pandemic.
He said the statement attributed to the PTF team leader in Kano was completely false, adding that the PTF will be able to make a comprehensive statement on the Kano situation once the test results are out.
He also dismissed fears that relaxing the lockdown may lead to increasing cases of the pandemic as experienced in other countries, stressing that the only way to have reduced figure of COVID-19 is for people to strictly observed all measures put in place.
He said the PTF was in talks with the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria and some state government on the possibility of producing protective gear locally, adding that as a result of global demand, protective equipment are currently scarce in the global market.
The Minister lamented that some Nigerians were running away from isolation centres while others have refused to report themselves for isolation.
He disclosed that the government has already tried out the Ebola antiretroviral drug recommended by the United States Government for the fight against the pandemic, but was silent on the outcome of such trial in Lagos.
He said most of the infections in some states of the north was as a result of people travelling to such states from Kano, adding that this explained why the restriction on traveling is necessary for now.
The Minister condemned reported cases of patients being turned back from hospitals as a result of fear of the pandemic, adding that the government was sensitising hospitals to the fact that it could be disastrous to ignore other ailments.
Responding to questions on how much has been realised from donations from individuals and corporate bodies the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman of the Presidential task Force, Boss Mustapha said he was not in a position to disclose such information as the PTF was not directly in charge of the funds which he said is domicile at the Central Bank of Nigeria.
He also said the Accountant General of the Federation opened an account in some commercial where donations were being paid into and would be in a better position to disclose how much has come into the account and how much of it has been utilised.
He also disclosed that the MOU signed with Health workers by the PTF was on behalf of the Federal civil servants, adding that state government in also being encouraged to do the same thing with health workers in the states.
While saying that no country in the world was prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, the SGF said at the moment, no country can claim to be well prepared for the post-COVID-19 situation, adding that leaders across the world are still studying what will become of their economies after the COVID-19 pandemic.
He, however, said that the PTF has no direct bearing on what happened in the economy, stressing that the President has already set up a committee headed by the Minister of Finance that is looking into the post-COVID-19 economy.
He said it has gotten to a situation where people has to be personally responsible for what happens around them rather than relying on the government, saying “we must take responsibility for our safety and those around us. It is not the time to wait on government. Going forward, our ways of doing things has to change.
Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajuba disclosed that AU ministers of Education are looking for alternative way of educating children in schools so that they don’t miss much as a result of the pandemic.
He said a decision has also be taken to postpone the West African Senior Secondary School Certificate exam and the National Examination Council exam.
He also said that at the moment, the Ministry has introduced online learning for school children, but lamented that only 20 percent of students are able to access such e leaning facilities as a result of lack of the required facilities.
He said the federal government has asked states to adopt the e-learning programme for their students, adding that 31 states have so far adopted.
On when schools are expected to reopen, he said that will depend on reports from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama said about 4000 have indicated interest in returning home from different parts of the world but said the government currently lack capacity to isolate them for the required period of 14 days.
While saying the government can only isolate 400 of them at a time, the Minister said the first batch of returnees from the United Arab Emirate were expected in the country on Wednesday.
He disclosed that the returnees have been asked to pay to for their ticket back home and also take care of their upkeep while in isolation.
He also disclosed that while the government was looking for a plane to bring back Nigerians in China, it was concentrating attention on areas with large population of Nigeria.
The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Chikwe Ihekwazu said there were three goals to be achieved from carrying out regular tests which include proximity, scale and future.
He said testing for scale and future explains why the centre has increased the number of testing centres from 5 to 21 with the aim of having one centre in each state of the federation.
He said while there are no confirmed cases in Kogi and Cross Rivers at the moment, the centre is encouraging states to increase the collection of sample for testing while the role of the agency is to give them the required support.
On whether the NCDC has failed, he said “history will judge us. This is not the time to trade blames. The NCDC has a staff strength of 300 and we have been working with other agencies of government and the states to do what we have been able to do so far.
He said ” this pandemic will not end next week and I know that I will be criticised for this. But we need to work together to achieve results. Neither treatment or testing can get us out of this. We need your voices to get Nigerians to understand what is going on”