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COVID-19: Taking responsibility to win

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COVID-19: Edo govt calls for caution as confirmed cases exceed 1,500, deaths rise to 57

By Hon. Toby Okechukwu

The world has drastically changed over the past few months with the COVID-19 pandemic. Its impact on Nigeria has been evident in the disruptions on the economic and social lives of individuals, households, and businesses. At the onset of the outbreak, the Federal Government imposed a mandatory lockdown on Lagos and Ogun States as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), banned non-essential interstate travels, and introduced various other restrictions to contain the pandemic. Many state governments have also followed suit in line with local circumstances within their various jurisdictions.

On our part in the House of Representatives, we passed an Economic Stimulus Bill to provide the necessary cushion for the country to balance the increasing demands of managing the pandemic and its economic fallout. We are also considering a Control of Infectious Diseases Bill to strengthen our country’s capacity to control this and other pandemics in the future. Laboratories have also been activated in virtually all the States to strengthen and expand the country’s testing capabilities.

 

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A few weeks ago, the government commenced various steps to ease the restrictions. Most recently, the Federal Government also announced the reopening of airports, lifting of interstate travel ban, while also reopening schools for examination classes. However, it is important that we remind ourselves that opening up the country for socioeconomic activities does not imply that the spread of the Coronavirus is closing out. As a matter of fact, confirmed cases of COVID-19 stood at 111 and 1 death at the time the lockdown and restrictions were announced.

But as I write, the figures stand at more than 30,000 cases and 669 deaths and the statistics will likely worsen by the time this piece is published. So, clearly, the restrictions are being relaxed due to socioeconomic. Mr. President equally admitted that the restrictions had come at a “very heavy economic cost”.

Truth is that  even with half a million people dead, including associates and even with the global COVID-19 infections surpassing 10 million, the World Health Organisation (WHO) believes that “the worst is yet to come”. Addressing newsmen only a few days ago, WHO boss, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the COVID-19 war was “far from being over”.

Therefore, if anything, this is the time to scale up our vigilance, prevention, and mitigation strategies as we continue to wage war on this invisible enemy. The responsibility of winning now lies with the government and citizens at this momentous intersection of health, economics, politics, and social considerations.

National and subnational governments, especially in the executive and legislature, are now confronted with tough decisions that require bold and decisive actions to ensure rapid and sustained economic recovery in the short term while keeping our citizens safe and healthy. One such imperative is to scale up investments in public health to withstand the pressures caused by the pandemic, especially in our rural and semi-urban communities. It is particularly important to expand our response readiness across the entire healthcare system, especially primary healthcare so that our first responders in the communities can detect and isolate suspected cases in the rural and semi-urban areas.

 

This investment should be targeted at rapidly upgrading our facilities and personnel with specific attention to special training for community healthcare workers and providing them with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). We can also explore Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) to achieve it.
Subnational governments should provide special protection for the vulnerable, especially our elderly persons in the rural areas that are extremely vulnerable to the disease. They need special attention and care from community healthcare extension workers to educate them on COVID-19, ensure that they practice strict personal hygiene and advised to enforce self-isolation by limiting the number of persons that make contact with them. States and local governments can also dedicate resources to providing regular palliatives to them to ensure they receive daily nutritious meals.

Furthermore, all strata of government must increase investment in the expansion of water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure across the country. According to guidelines issued by public health authorities, handwashing and good hygiene practices are key preventive measures to stop the spread of the virus by citizens.

Access to water supply in Nigeria is estimated to be 67%, with lower percentage in the rural areas (just over 40%). So, governments can work with the private sector to provide the needed technology and expertise to support the delivery of WASH infrastructure.

COVID-19 has also highlighted the need for strong digital infrastructure to support e-government, digital learning, telemedicine, work-from-home, e-commerce, and financial services. Nigeria’s public and private sectors must, therefore, place greater emphasis on massively improving our ICT infrastructure primarily in broadband technology and internet penetration in all nooks and crannies of the country. It is gratifying to note that most states are already reducing Right-of-Way charges drastically while a few have completely eliminated them. This will provide a great boost to broaden internet access and fast-track economic recovery.

The Federal Government can also go a step further by providing additional incentives to the private sector so that they can scale up ICT investments across the country.

As governments do their part, citizens also have a responsibility to comply with guidelines and regulations such as proper handwashing and hygiene procedures, compulsory facemasks, physical distancing which requires limits on the number of persons that can stay within a defined environment at a time, among others. It is scary to see that Nigerians have are letting down their guards while the war is just beginning. It is even scarier that many still contest the existence of COVID-19 in our climes. A strict paradigm shift in our behavioural attitudes and ways of life remains an effective tool for combating the virus.

This is not a time to second-guess the virus or to live in a denial that it does not exist. COVID-19 is real, and several Nigerians have lost loved ones to the disease.

Our health systems are currently getting overstretched and the country’s economy is still contracting. But we can break the cycle of spread and transmission of the disease by focusing on our individual responsibility to take necessary actions as recommended by public health authorities, specialists, and experts.

However, the most important aspect of our collective responsibility remains a national strategy to look inwards and seek local content in the areas of innovation, technology, research, and development.

This is a global pandemic and most countries have demonstrated that effective responses are driven by local innovative solutions that are delivered with best practices. Nigeria is endowed with inventors, innovators, scientists, and much more.

The time has come for us to harness the potentials of these human assets to think through local approaches and solutions in the development of medicines and vaccines for COVID-19. Public and private sector investments should be dedicated to support these efforts, but we need a coherent national strategy to drive it.

Nigeria should be on the global map of research and development to combat this virus and mitigate its effect on humanity.
We also need inventions and innovations in technology that can enhance our response capabilities to the pandemic. Fortunately, our bright minds are coming forward with great ideas, products, and services.

They need the support of government to protect their intellectual properties and encourage private investments to commercialise them. The National Assembly stands ready to support such efforts with the appropriate legislative framework to deliver them.

As every nation appears to be on their own, adopting various measures within their jurisdictions to fend off the pandemic, I am supremely confident that Nigeria can win the war against the pandemic. But to do this, all Nigerians must remain focused and take responsibility. The government must adopt a smart local content national strategy. And together we can win the war on COVID-19.

Okechukwu is Deputy Minority Leader, House of Representatives

Vanguard

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