Charge FG to contain spread now
New variants winning race against vaccines — WHO
Rapid action needed — NCDC
By Chioma Obinna
Medical experts have expressed worry about the imminent onset of the third wave of the Covid-19 in Nigeria in the wake of the confirmation of the highly infectious Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus in Nigeria.
Their worry is more significant following the warning by the World Health Organisation, WHO, that emerging COVID variants like the delta variant are winning the race against available vaccines.
The experts who spoke to Vanguard weekend, said Nigeria has reason to be warier at the moment as the deadly delta variant which has been detected in at least 105 countries globally is now becoming dominant in the US, the UK, and Europe, and at the rate, it is rapidly spreading, could become dominant in African countries if unchecked.
The experts called on the federal government to immediately step up the national response to control the emergence and spread of new variants in order to spare Nigeria the full brunt of the third wave of the pandemic.
A public health analyst and a renowned Laboratory Scientist, Dr Casmier Ifeanyi told Vanguard that the fears expressed by the WHO, about the Delta variant and the likelihood of the emergence of other new or unknown Covid-19 variants was not misplaced and should be taken seriously, particularly, by the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19.
Noting that Nigeria has not fared very well in respect of vaccine coverage, Ifeanyi said till date, less than 4 million Nigerians have been vaccinated and less of the number about 1.1million have received the two complementary doses at the appropriate time.
“African countries should be rightly worried about the delta variant. Nigeria being a travel destination and a hub for international travels should certainly be worried.
“We are vulnerable as a country and our case is even made worse by our fragile and non-existent health infrastructure and systems. Just last week, the president of South Africa addressed his nation and issued new restrictions and guidelines as he directed for another phase of lockdown. South Africa apparently has activated and operationalised stiffer restrictions.
“The third wave is eminently present in the Africa continent. It is worrisome that Nigerians carry on as if nothing is at stake. If the President of South Africa with all they have done as a country is issuing the far-reaching proclamation and pointing to the fact that the third wave may be accentuated by the more virulent Delta variant, then it is only right that countries like Nigeria should follow suit. South Africa is taking notice of their experience with COVID-19.”
Ifeanyi warned that Nigeria should be concerned about the new variant as the country (Nigeria) and South Africa are miles apart regarding the containment of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Arguing that the world is not out of the woods regarding the impact of the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic because of the emergence of more virulent variants of the virus, he affirmed that logic dictated that the warning by the WHO must be taken seriously.
“If they have concerns then Nigeria should be fretting. South Africa has an edge, a lot of edge for that matter over Nigeria in terms of vaccine coverage and extant robust infrastructure and comprehensive health systems.
“One expects that President Mohammadu Buhari, in his proposed address of the nation, would speak about the impending challenges of the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and Nigeria’s plans for containing the scourge.
“The Nigerian government must put to work the lessons it claimed has been learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, it does appear we did not learn much. We have not been able to fully translate the supposed lessons we learnt into measurable outcomes in terms of leveraging the same to improve our health systems and health infrastructure,” Ifeanyi remarked.
Aggressive proactive testing required — TOMORI
Also speaking to Vanguard, a renowned Virologist, Prof Oyewale Tomori said Nigeria should be wary of the Delta variant that is currently causing havoc not only in other parts of the world but also in some African countries.
“To be forewarned is to be forearmed. People should begin to comply with government guidelines, wear masks, safe distancing, etc.
“On the side of the government, aggressive proactive lab testing should be extended to the community and we should not wait passively for the sick to come; we should prepare in anticipation of the third wave invasion.”
Noting that Nigeria had not done well in terms of response to the pandemic, Tomori said the country should emulate South Africa, Ghana, and other countries that have been proactive and gone ahead to purchase vaccines, rather than waiting only for COVAX.
“Has your country done so? How long shall we wait for free vaccines, giant of Africa? We have been threatening to buy vaccines, billions were allocated for the last 3 to 4 months, we have only been talking but there are no vaccines.”
On his own part, a Public health expert, Prof Akin Osibogun said every country should be worried and be alert for the spreading Delta variant of the COVID-19 as it spreads faster and is more virulent.
“What governments at all levels should be doing is to motivate the general population to adhere to the public health measures to prevent the virus, intensify diplomatic and other efforts to get more vaccines into the country, and energize its public health preparedness measures including surveillance and focused research.”
Rapid action needed to contain variant — NCDC
In his own response, the Director-General of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu said the fact that the COVID-19 virus mutates, underscores the need for rapid action to contain the mutant virus and control its spread.
Ihekweazu affirmed that evidence shows that the delta the variant has a higher level of transmissibility compared to other variants of concern and has been associated with the surge in cases in India, and an increasing number of cases in some African countries.
He, however, noted that there were ongoing studies to understand the impact of the variant on existing vaccines and diagnostics, and that, irrespective of the variant, the Covid-19 virus is more likely to spread when people gather without public health and social measures.
He said to prevent the new variant and ensure that the third wave of the pandemic is under check, the NCDC has continued to coordinate, scale up and sustain the public health response.
“We have continued to monitor developments globally, provide data to guide decisions taken by the Presidential Steering Committee on travel restrictions, support states to monitor trends, sustain our risk communications among other activities.
“Importantly, we have been working with the private laboratories approved for COVID-19 travel tests, to carry out genomic sequencing of COVID-19 positive cases among travellers. This is in addition to our routine genomic sequencing at the NCDC National Reference Laboratory and with the African Centre for Genomics of Infectious Diseases at Redeemer’s University, Ede.”
New variants winning a race against vaccines — WHO
Last week, the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned during his bi-weekly conference in Geneva that emerging COVID variants like the delta variant are winning the race against available vaccines.
Tedros, who pinned the blame for the trend on a lack of equitable vaccine production and distribution said that passing the four millionths recorded death worldwide from COVID-19 was a “tragic milestone” that “likely underestimates the overall toll” of the deadly virus.
Tedros warned that far too many countries are seeing “sharp spikes in cases and hospitalisation”, while rich nations with high inoculation rates were dropping public health measures “as though the pandemic is already over.”
“At this stage in the pandemic, the fact that millions of health and care workers have still not been vaccinated is abhorrent.
“Variants are currently winning the race against vaccines because of inequitable vaccine production and distribution. It didn’t have to be this way and it doesn’t have to be this way going forward”, Tedris stated.
He said the spread of the variant would also threaten the global economic recovery, noting that, from a “moral, epidemiological or economic” standpoint, now is the time for the world to come together.
According to the WHO, the Delta variant has been now detected in 104 countries; the Alpha variant in 173; the Beta in 122; and the Gamma variant in 74.
The global health body noted that the Delta variant is driving the Africa COVID threat to a whole new level, even as it predicted that the delta variant would become dominant in Europe by August 2021.