By Edwin Uhara
SINCE the Federal Government’s intention to acquire and inoculate Nigerians with COVID-19 vaccines was made public, I have read several critical comments against the plan by some Nigerians opposing the move without proposing alternative solution to the pandemic in our country.
Most of the opposing views are hinged on myths, conspiracy theories and blatant denial of the existence of the disease. But one thing some of them failed to understand is the fact that the number of COVID-19 victims being recorded daily by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, are not just figures but fellow human beings with dreams, aspirations, visions and passion for both individual and collective successes.
They are the fathers who are breadwinners of their various families; mothers, sisters and brothers who worked hard daily to realise their ambition but got trapped in the web of the dreaded pandemic. As at the time of writing this piece, there are over 1,547 deaths caused by coronavirus while there are over 127,024 confirmed cases with 24,619 active cases – these are citizens undergoing treatments in various treatments centres across the federation; apart from the huge resources spent in the treatment of 100,858 patients who recovered from the disease and have been discharged.
Nevertheless, now that the new strain of the virus – B117 found in the United Kingdom has been discovered in the country, only God knows what would have been the fate of Nigeria had President Muhammadu Buhari not signed the ‘COVID-19 Health Protection Regulations 2021’ bill into law to contain the rapid spread of the disease in the country, especially the new variant – B117 which spreads faster than the normal virus. The new law which has made the use of facemask and adherence to Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions mandatory in any part of the federation irrespective of locality was signed by the President by virtue of section 4 of the Quarantine Act.
Part of the law reads: “In the exercise of the powers conferred upon me by Section 4 of the Quarantine Act, Cap. Q2 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2010 and all other powers enabling me in that behalf; and in consideration of the urgent need to protect the health and wellbeing of Nigerians in the face of the widespread and rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria, I, Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, hereby make the following Regulations.
“The first part of the new regulations imposes restrictions of gatherings and enforces a physical distancing of not less than two metres between persons at all times. The part also provides that no gathering of more than 50 persons shall hold in an enclosed space, except for religious purposes, in which case the gathering shall not exceed 50 per cent capacity of the space.
All persons in public gatherings, whether in enclosed or open spaces, shall adhere to the provisions of Part two of these Regulations. The provisions of these regulations may be varied by Guidelines and Protocols as may be issued, from time to time, by the PTF on COVID-19 on the recommendation of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC.
The second part of the law addresses operations of public places like open markets, malls, supermarkets, shops, restaurants, hotels, event centres, gardens, leisure parks, recreation centres, motor parks and fitness centres. The law provides for wearing of face masks, hands washing, and the use of hand sanitisers, amongst other regulations. It stipulates a penalty of a fine or a prison of six months for offenders.”
Before now, government strategy has been on interrupting the viral transmission of the disease; reducing its risk on the health system from being overwhelmed due to increased demand, minimising mortality among most vulnerable parts of the population until the curve is finally flattened.
The second wave of the pandemic was, however, made worse by super-spreaders like the general and bye-elections in some states, EndSARS protesters, Christmas and New Year festivities. With the rising cases as well as the entrance of the B117 varriant, government cannot fold its arm to watch the predictions of those who said Africa would be littered with dead bodies to come true.
Nonetheless, it is instructive to note that government started the battle from the stand-point of weakness with manpower shortages, inadequate facilities, poor equipment, among others. But today, the reverse is the case as the difference is clear in terms sample collection, testing and establishment of treatment centers with Intensive Care Units in all the states of the federation.
Thanks to the leadership and members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 who accepted the uneasy task despite the false and malicious accusations, media attacks, stereotyping and all sorts of unprintable names and allegations.
Probably, if only these Nigerians should get to know that what is now regarded as the PTF was just a piece of paper that was handed over to its chairman, Mr. Boss Mustapha on March 9, 2020, maybe they will begin to appreciate the level of work done and support it in the challenging tasks ahead.
So, when government says we should take personal responsibility and ‘say no’ to vaccine hesitancy, it is for our own good and safety because if the worst should happen, there would not be space in our hospitals to treat other ailments.
Another reason that favours vaccination programme is the shortage of health professionals in the country. According to a report, the ratio of Nigerian doctors to the population is 1: 2,753. This means one doctor will be treating 2,753 patients should everyone be infected with the virus. By all standards, the doctor-patient ratio in the country is inadequate because the World Health Organisation recommendation is 1: 600 which means one doctor should be responsible for 600 patients.
As we all know, ideals are not always translated to reality, especially in Least Developed Countries, LDCs, because of so many factors. Therefore, the question to those encouraging vaccine hesitancy is: should we allow politics to triumph over vaccination programme that will save many lives or do we allow vaccination to prevail over politics knowing full well that advanced countries of the world like the United States with all the state-of-the-arts medical facilities just recorded 433,000 deaths with 25.8 million infected persons?
As the nation prepares to roll out its own vaccination programme anytime soon, history will remember us if we encourage vaccination by the power of our example and not by the example of our power.
Comrade Uhara, a UN-trained negotiator, wrote from Abuja