The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is the government agency with the mandate to lead the prevention, detection and control of communicable diseases of national and international public health importance.
The new coronavirus falls within its purview. The virus has led to putrid tales of havocs, infections, sicknesses and deaths. It started in Wuhan, China. In the past, coronaviruses were a large family of viruses that could infect humans and cause no more than a benign discomfort in the form of a common cold.
However, in less than two decades, the virus seemed to have morphed and evolved into a more virulent and sinister infection that causes more harm than a common cold; it progresses from mild to severe/acute respiratory dysfunction, causing pneumonia, kidney failure and in most cases eventual death.
As of January 26, nearly 3,000 people have been confirmed to have been infected, with the death toll at 80. The majority of those deaths, 76 people, were in the central province of Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak. Truth is that these numbers are more than likely to increase as more and more cases are being discovered.
In an interview last week on NTA, NCDC Director-General Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu said: “We have been working on a whole series of infectious diseases outbreak in the past few years and increasing our capacity.
This is a time to be grateful for that investment in our country. Initially, we thought it was just transmitted from animals to humans. There’s something we call zoonotic transmission, but over the last few days, we have found some human to human transmission.
So what we are doing as a centre is working with our partners – the WHO, Africa Centre for Disease Control and all other partners to prepare ourselves to learn as much as we can of this new virus to provide Nigerians and experts the information that they need to control this new disease.
“What we will advise Nigerians (those going and those coming in) if you are going, avoid contact with wild animals, markets.
For those coming back, if you have respiratory symptoms, cough, catarrh, pneumonia, fever etc., do let the portal authorities know at the airports and if you notice the symptoms after you come into the country, contact NCDC, our toll-free number is (0800 9700 0010) and we will arrange for samples to be collected.”
He further added: “You talk about health-seeking behaviour, another thing is about a lot of our habits. Whenever many of us Nigerians have a fever, we think we are doctors and can make a diagnosis of malaria and start jumping on pills. So, we plead to Nigerians to listen that not every fever is malaria, we should test before we treat.”
According to Dr. Omuh, “We need to start encouraging and improving our health-seeking behaviour, even from primary school; the children need to be educated. Once it becomes a habit, then we can continue to build upon it. Education and awareness can never be overemphasised.
“Personal hygiene and keeping your home and surroundings clean is therefore crucial. Sometimes, people panic and say they prefer not to know whether they have the virus or not; however, in preferring not to get tested, you might be exposing your loved ones and people around you if it turns out to be Coronavirus.”
In a telephone interview, Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) President Dr. Francis Faduyile emphasized that: “Universal precaution is the most important thing.
People should avoid crowded places, and our ports of entry must be on guard to against entry of the virus. The port health services must be top-notch. We must ensure we have a high index of suspicion on high fever, especially from those coming from the China region.
“It calls for the health system to be extra-vigilant. We also need very experienced medical personnel to have an eye for symptoms. It is not a highfalutin thing to curb it but more of precautionary measures on hygiene.”
Thailand and Hong Kong have each reported 8 cases of infection; the United States of America, Taiwan, Australia and Macau have 5 each; Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia each have reported 4; France has 3; Vietnam has 2, and Nepal has one.
There is, therefore, a legitimate fear and anxiety brewing across the globe, and governments are investing heavily to tighten their ports of entry – airports, borders.
The NCDC, in a statement, said that it received guidance from the WHO that the risk of spread to countries outside of the region is low.
It also assured that the Federal Ministry of Health’s (FMoH) Port Health Services is on alert at points of entry. The NCDC, therefore, advised travellers from Wuhan, China to Nigeria to report to a medical facility and NCDC if they feel ill. Whether Nigeria falls in that safe zone of low-risk regions or not, all hands must be on deck to forestall any entry.
Speaking with The Nation, the Chairman, Coalition for Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Accountability Mechanism (C4MAN), Dr. Ejike Orji, said: “When it comes to issues like this, I like to cry wolf so that everybody can be alert.
Saying that Nigeria is low in susceptibility might be simply because we do not want people to panic, however, we also do not want people to be lackadaisical about what they are supposed to be doing. “Nigeria needs high alert at our borders because Nigerians travel to China more than any other African country.
Also, if we look at our trade with China, the volume of trades between Nigeria and China is huge. Anyone saying that Nigeria is a low-risk country is only saying that so that Nigerians will not panic.
“We have shown that we have the capacity and capabilities to kick out such pandemic diseases, of which Ebola was one. Nigeria is still being hailed for its strides to stop Ebola. The most import thing is personal hygiene and high alertness of health-seeking behaviour.”
For the Deputy Director, Prevention, Care and Treatment, Institute of Human Virology Nigeria (IHVN), Dr. Helen Omuh, “Even though we are low risk, we also need to take precautions in the event of possible cases that could come into the country, to be able to control it if it ever comes in.
“What we are doing in IHVN is educating our staff, healthcare workers and the population around us to take precautions and make sure that wherever the disease is found it can be reported and referred to the appropriate quarters for testing and treatment.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe
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