According to recent reports, there has been a decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases in various parts of the world. This has been attributed to a number of factors, including the efficacy of vaccines, increased immunity of the previously infected, and a significant reduction in crowd gatherings occasioned by the end of the holiday season.
In Nigeria, however, it is difficult to ascertain whether similar factors have triggered the recent reduction in cases. Testing has been relatively slow in the country, and due to extreme levels of poverty, many simply cannot afford the test. Furthermore, like a double-edged sword, these individuals are also unable to afford masks, hand sanitisers or even tablets of soap that can help to serve preventive purposes.
Since the emergence of COVID-19 in Nigeria in February 2020, the private sector has been instrumental in working to put up a good fight against the Coronavirus in Nigeria, by way of sensitisation and provision of protective equipment.
A number of partnerships have been formed, such as the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID) – a fund that provides immediate support in the country’s response to COVID-19 – and the Nigeria Solidarity Support Fund (NSSF) which was also established to mitigate present and future health crises.
Another initiative whose efforts deserve to be lauded for its impact in the fight against COVID, is Project SafeUp — borne of a partnership between the Mastercard Foundation and indigenous manufacturers, My World of Bags (MWOB).
Project SafeUp was set up in 2020 to promote health safety across the South-Western region of Nigeria. The project, which kicked off in November 2020, has produced and seeks to distribute at least 2.5 million items of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to schools, low-income homes, non-governmental organisations, and hospitals in Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo, Osun and Lagos.
Beyond the distribution of these items, the initiative has also taken up the task of sensitising communities on the importance of heeding these safety measures, by communicating the message through flyers and radio jingles delivered in local dialects.
On November 27, 2020, Project SafeUp delivered multiple PPE packages to the New Dawn Handicapped Home in Ibadan, Oyo State. It also delivered 100,000 PPE items, including masks, face shields and gowns to communities in Lagos, Ekiti and Oyo States between November and December 2020, including Methodist Secondary School in Bodija, Ibadan and Bishop Philip Junior Academy in Ibadan.
These donations enabled the students and teachers to protect themselves from the virus as they participated in school activities, and many have reported no records of any COVID-19 cases amongst their schools.
The launch of Project SafeUp couldn’t have come at a better time. Many Nigerians, right from the onset, have believed that the pandemic is a hoax, which highlights the need to enlighten the public on the potentially damaging effects of COVID-19.
Project SafeUp’s sensitisation activities will also help in an area that many have ignored — the stigma of infection. In July 2020, Nigeria’s Presidential Task Force Committee stated that one of its problems was the refusal of individuals to assist contact tracers due to fear and stigma. Thankfully, people like Daniel Sila, a town crier in Abushi village near Abuja city, took it upon themselves to share information about the virus and how to prevent it.
Yet, over the past few months, despite what may be described as COVID-apathy due to the saturation of the media, a slow but visible shift in sentiment can be seen.
Compared to earlier on in 2020, where the comment sections of popular social media platforms were filled with nay-sayers and theorists who were hell-bent on debunking any stories about the virus, a change has begun — albeit at snail’s pace. Now, more Nigerians appear to be ready to share their experiences battling the dreaded virus.
However, the work is still far from complete in a country of 200 million people where over 50 per cent of Nigerians do not have access to the internet. The message of awareness of the virus, and the understanding that if they are infected, they can speak up and seek out medical care, is essential.
The arrival of over three million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine presents a ray of hope in the year-long fight against this unprecedented virus. Even so, the quantity is negligible when one takes a 200 million population into consideration.
Furthermore, for a people already doubtful of the existence of the virus, an aggressive and consistent education will be necessary to encourage citizens to take the vaccine. Still, in the meantime, masks and shields are our best bet, and we cannot but be thankful for increased access to PPE for those for whom the word of a vaccine may take some time to register, talk less of digest.