As Telcos rise to challenge of containing pandemic
By Chioma Obinna
With the COVID-19 pandemic showing that even the strongest, most-resourced and prepared health systems are vulnerable to an abrupt public health threat, the Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu has said that a rapid holistic, cohesive, whole-of-government approach that encompasses civil society and local communities was critical in the response to the pandemic in the country.
Ihekweazu said the pandemic triggered one of the most rapid investments in Nigeria’s health security in one year, to the extent that one molecular laboratory has been established in every state in Nigeria.
Good Health Weekly gathered, from worldometers.info that as of the 27th of September, 2021, the number of COVID-19 cases totalled 204,456 with 2,677 deaths, while 192,628 people had been discharged.
According to the microoste of the NCDC, the cases were recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. To date, according to the data, a total of 2,997,060 samples had been tested nationwide.
There were 255 new cases reported from Imo (124), Lagos (72), FCT (36), Rivers (16), Enugu (6) and Kano (1).
Speaking in Lagos during a High- Level meeting with Nigerian Telecos, the D-G said the all-encompassing approaches will also be required to rebuilding stronger health systems towards adjusting to what he described as a ‘new normal’.
“Private organisations of all sizes have a crucial role in helping health systems and communities build and sustain resilience before, during and after disease outbreaks that have adverse effects on health systems.
“The private sector remains an untapped resource to address longer-term challenges in Nigeria’s health security.
He said the Nigerian Telcos have been instrumental in Nigeria’s COVID-19 response even as he mentioned the available toll free number.
“The national response to the pandemic has been a whole-of-society effort, with public and private sectors working collaboratively to strengthen the response in different critical areas.”
Ihekweazu recognised the tremendous support that Nigeria’s telecommunications companies provided to aid the agency opportunity to promptly reach millions of with life–saving information.
“In the year ahead, Nigeria must be aware of the various emerging scenarios and the role they must play,” he noted.
He further disclosed that there is the increased detection of variants of concern, hence the potential impact of these on vaccine efficacy, therapeutics and diagnostics are yet to be fully understood.
He said Nigerians should continue to protect themselves and the country by reducing the risk of transmission, adding that, “it is a challenge we must collectively rise to tackle.”
Highlighting the national response, Ihekweazu, also disclosed that a digital surveillance system, (SORMAS) has been implemented across all states while new standard treatment centres are being established across the country.
“Almost every state in Nigeria now has a public health emergency operations centre, integrating a call centre, and other resources required to manage this outreak.
“A national stockpile of response commodities has been established and new oxygen plants built. No other outbreak has led to this level of widespread investment in our health security.”
Noting that every country suffered distrust in government, he said it remains the biggest challenge but because of the consistency of NCDC’s messaging through different sources, -social media, conventional media, TV houses and SMS, everything collectively consistently saying the right thing really won Nigerians over.
“Now with the vaccine roll-out, the distrust started again but now we are seeing an uptake in the vaccine. I think we have built a lot of trust with our people. The challenge for all of us collectively is to build on this moving forward and to grow from strength to strength.”
The Executive Vice Chairman, Nigeria Communications Commission, NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta who observed that a lot of people around the world are still wondering how Nigeria was able to contain the outbreak, said credit goes to Ihekweazu and NCDC team.
Describing the appointment of the NCDC D-G by the WHO as well deserved, Danbatta remarked: “I think your leadership and efforts of all members of the agencies involved have done wonderfully in containing the ravaging effect of the pandemic. We are indeed grateful for that.
“The Nigeria Communications Commission has an agenda for strategic collaboration and partnership and it was on that platform we cooperated with the NCDC and facilitated the collaboration with the Nigeria telecom industry.”
Represented by Engr. Bako Wakil, he said telecom companies that contributed towards the success of the response in terms of SMS campaign support, donation of PPEs, as well as the call toll-free centre number.
He stressed the need for the NCDC to leverage the emergency centre number of the companies which he said, was currently in 22 states going forward.
He said the emergency toll-free number gives an opportunity to Nigerians to report when they are in distress and can also serve as a medical emergency free toll number.
“Today, the pandemic has shown that in all situations technology remains the best approach to attend to issues and fortunately, Nigeria has responsible telecom companies such as MTN, Airtel, Glo and 9Mobile.”
The MTN representative, Karl Toriola, expressed hope that Ihekweazu’s successor would take the National response to greater heights, noting that it was in the time of crisis, that anyone can actually realise the strength and appreciate the strength of public servants