Says pandemic’ll remain for sometime
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru – Abuja
National Coordinator, Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, on Tuesday, said that the nation’s health system has become fragile and may not withstand the effect of a major outbreak of the pandemic or other infections.
Dr. Aliyu also said that COVID-19 will be in the country for a while and will continue to be deadly, adding that a lot more work needed to be done to enable the country to transition back to normal.
This was contained in his remark at COVID-19 End of year report which was made available to journalists after the presentation of the report to President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
According to him, “COVID-19 will be with us for a while. Although this is the new normal, it continues to be just as deadly. Nevertheless, we have shown it is possible to keep it in check through the work we have done – we must persevere and continue the communication and enforcement aspects required to keep us safe until the epidemic is over.
“Next year will be all about the COVID-19 vaccine. This is a huge challenge for the country and will require your leadership and continued commitment, Mr. President. All hands must be on deck to deliver and overcome the challenges of securing the supply of safe and effective vaccines, logistics, and acceptance.
“Our health system has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s health system is fragile and may not withstand the effect of a major outbreak of COVID-19 or other infections.
“There is an urgent need for a carefully thought through and action-oriented reform of the health sector that will improve our health security and place the country in a better position to manage future health threats.
“While a lot has been achieved, gratitude goes to the partners and donors, PTF members, secretariat staff without whom we will not have made any achievements. On behalf of the PTF, I would also like to thank you for the immense support you have provided us, your timely approval of our requests, and guidance through what has been an incredibly challenging period for all.
“However, it is not over yet. A lot more work needs to be done to enable us to transition back to normal. I am confident that by working together and with your continued support, we will overcome this challenge once again.
“Nevertheless, we have shown it is possible to keep it in check through the work we have done – we must persevere and continue the communication and enforcement aspects required to keep us safe until the epidemic is over.”
On the challenges facing the PTF, he said despite the progress made over the summer, fatigue has started to set in, and an increasing number of people stopped adhering to the Non-Pharmaceutical Intervention, NPIs.
He said,” Additionally, we observed an increase in the public’s level of mistrust around the severity of COVID-19. Furthermore, the decrease in sample collection and testing due to fear, stigma, and lack of cooperation by the public gave a false perception that COVID-19 was no longer a threat to the average Nigerian.
“The re-opening of businesses, schools, places of worship, etc. plus the advent of massive public events linked to the festive season has contributed to the increase in cases we are observing today.
“In September 2020, the international airspace was re-opened and the PTF put strategies in place that would significantly reduce the likelihood of infected travelers into Nigeria. While these strategies were effective in sieving out COVID-19 infected persons, the process was not without its challenges.
“Nevertheless, we have continued to learn from our early response and from the lessons of other countries and will continue to work through these challenges to strengthen our response in Nigeria.”
The PTF Coordinator enumerated some steps to take next in a bid to tackle frantically the pandemic.
He said, “As 2020 draws to a close, the PTF needs to redefine its role in the COVID-19 response and identify how to streamline into a lean but effective response body that will focus on tackling COVID-19 by sustaining the gains made while maintaining a reasonable level of readiness in response to this second surge of the pandemic but also other outbreaks in the future.
“To do this end, an end-term review was held last week, and we agreed upon some key next steps that we must push for:
“Greater coordination with effective devolution to the states – States to ensure accountability on the implementation of already funded activities – i.e., getting states to use the funds for the response effectively.
“Improve sample collection and testing across all states. Collection of 400-450 samples across each of the 774 LGAs in the country must be instituted quickly. Also ramp up testing at our land borders, particularly Seme.
“Increase and target risk communication messages against all demographics in the country
- Addressing the 2nd surge via enforcement of NPIs. We know that NPIs are the most effective way to prevent the spread of this disease and for this, we must ensure that they are adhered to while allowing essential economic activity to continue.
“We also need to institutionalize Infection Prevention and Control policy and training nationwide—it should become a standard of practice thus protective equipment should be freely available, including from local manufacturers.
“Vaccine purchase, delivery, rollout, and getting to the last mile. 2021 will see a tremendous need for COVID-19 vaccine introduction into Nigeria. This will require a comprehensive and implementable communication plan and strategy.
“The global community has assured 20% coverage of the vaccine need via the GAVI COVAX facility, but the government will need to source the remaining 40% for vaccines and all operational costs for delivery. This is a key step for 2021 through working with NPHCDA and all other MDAs and partners.”
On Nigeria’s Statistics, he said,” When 2020 rolled around 11 months ago, no one could have predicted the impact that COVID-19 would have on Nigeria and on the global economy.
“Today, we stand at 78,434 cases and 1,221 deaths in Nigeria. Family, colleagues, and some of our very own leaders have succumbed to this deadly disease. We have suffered losses but also seen several survivors. This virus spares no one.”
He said the PTF was able to strengthen the national and sub-national coordination of the response.
“The PTF effectively coordinated the delivery of the national response through close engagement with States, the private sector, and the donor community.
“Significant resources were mobilized in the first few months for the response; while the FG budgeted contributions amounted to N49.4 billion, development and private partners through CACOVID, the UN Single Basket Fund, NNPC and other bilateral partners mobilized N66.7 billion during the period.
“This enabled the deployment of rapid response teams and the setting up of treatment centres throughout the country. The PTF continues to provide guidance and oversight to the states and FCT on the utilization of the N50 billion they have recently received for the COVID-19 response.
“Prompt detection of COVID-19 cases across the country: Rapid response teams were deployed to support contact tracing and active case search.
“Strengthened the health system through improved infrastructure and training: The PTF supervised and delivered through the NCDC the training of over 35,500 health care workers on Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures.
“Through the generosity of donors, the country received just over a million test kits, more than 3.4 million face masks, and other PPEs. In addition, over 200 ventilators and 4,000 oxygen delivery equipment were deployed and operationalized throughout the country.
“As a result of this, we have observed a steady decline in death rates with improved outcome and recoveries.
“Massive mobilization of government, private sector, and donor assets to deliver risk communication activities: The PTF through the Information Ministry, partner agencies and donors trained over 62,000 persons on risk communication and mobilized over 800,000 community volunteers nationwide to raise awareness of COVID-19.”
He said the PTF has continued to engage with traditional and religious leaders as well as civil society to ensure that prevention measures were heard and accepted by the public.