By Olasunkanmi Akoni and Nelson Alu
Wife of Lagos State Governor, Dr Ibijoke Sanwoolu and medical experts have advised Nigeria to be emergency ready to defeat an imminent deadlier fourth wave of COVID-19 pandemic and future pandemics in the country.
They made the submission at the 56th edition of the Annual Scientific Conference, organised by the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, AMLSN, Lagos State Branch, held at Oshodi, Lagos.
The theme of the conference was: “National Health Emergency Preparedness – Current Status and Forward Look.”
Mrs Sanwoolu, in her address, said that “there must be a comprehensive action plan to enhance preparedness for emergencies especially in terms of fundings, partnerships and political commitments at all levels.
She stressed that since the Ebola experience in 2014, with Lagos State as epi-centre, the government had continued to put up critical efforts for emergency health preparedness, even as she commended the AMLSN for initiating the discourse in that direction.
However, Professor Richard Adegbola, a Consultant and Research Professor, in his paper, proffered consistent surveillance as a critical component for early detection of infectious diseases and the prevention of its transformation into a pandemic.
According to Adegbola: “There are four components for preparedness for epidemics: the number one is surveillance, and surveillance needs to be consistent and systematic because what surveillance does is, generates data that can give you trends so that you can predict what happens next.
“So what to take away is that we need to look at what is working now for COVID-19. It worked for us during Ebola, which made Nigeria so successful in battling and containing the disease and we should learn from that and make sure we maintain them and improve on them.
“We should train staff that can actually do what we need to do to prepare for the future because another pandemic will come, there is no doubt about that, when it will come and what it will be, we don’t know.
“So, we need to improve our surveillance and modern technology like what they call Genomics, that is, sequencing to know the genetic component for the virus, because virus changes.
“Even the current one now, the problem is that, it is changing and all virus do that, they change so that they can beat the system that you use to combat them, but we have to be ahead of them, and the only way we can be ahead of them is to do sequencing, so that we know if they change and how to combat them.
“So, focus on surveillance and financing surveillance, so that we can maintain the structure that we have now, improve on training the staff so that when another one comes there will be early detection because the problem with the pandemic is if you don’t detect it early, and you allow it to escape into the community, then you are chasing after it rather than standing against it.
“What the data shows is that the government has tried as much as they could with the resources available. They started with only a few laboratories, for example, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, fortunately, we have the NCDC in place, because we have a coordinating body from the Federal to state level and they actually have emergency control centres all over the state.
“My understanding is that, by the end of 2020, they have emergency control centres in each of the states, what we need to do now is to make them functional, in terms of staff, infrastructure, laboratory components. Train epidemiologists that can actually do surveys and monitor what is going on.
“The most important thing is to see if something is changing and track it before it gets to the community and there are ways to do it.
“For example, studies have shown that if you are going to have an epidemic, you begin to see signs of it. For example, sewage and begin to look at people who work with animals and try to see whether we can see signs of something before they arrive so that we can plan strategies against them.
“In summary, we need to identify what has worked, how we can strengthen them, how can we expand surveillance, how can we increase our ability to do what we can not do now and train people and also make sure we sustain them so that we don’t forget how it comes so as to avoid running around again.”
However, AMLSN President, Prof James Damen, represented by Mr Femi Ajebo, harped on the need for the desired political will evidenced by improved budgetary allocation and manpower training to fully defeat the COVID-19 scourge and restore the life of the people to normalcy.
Earlier, the Lagos State Branch Chairman of AMLSN, Mr Olumide Fadipe stated that the conference was to allow academic and professional examination of the preparedness of Nigeria for the COVID-19 pandemic and the way forward.
The weeklong conference is expected to end on Saturday, with a communique to be formally presented for the consideration of the government.