Nigeria: NMA, TUC Reject Govt's Plan to Invite Chinese Doctors to Fight COVID-19

(file photo).
6 April 2020

The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) have rejected the plan by the federal government to invite Chinese doctors to assist in tackling the COVID-19 scourge in the country.

This development is coming as the Lagos State Government has discharged a 10-year-old and four other COVID-19 patients from the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba.

Nigeria has, however, recorded 18 new cases, bringing to 232 the total number of confirmed cases in the country.

Five of the 232 have died while 33 have been discharged.

In addition, the Osun State Government has released returnees who were isolated over uncertainty about their COVID-19 status.

The state government has also discharged the index case after the patient fully recovered from the virus.

The NMA expressed dismay over the intention of the federal government to invite Chinese doctors into the country at this time of the global pandemic, saying their presence would dampen the morale of the frontline health workforce.

"The invitation demeans their sacrifices so far in this pandemic. We fail to see how the 18-man team would impact the current efforts in any significant way," the NMA stated in a statement issued yesterday by its President, Dr. Francis Faduyile.

The association urged the federal government to rescind the decision in the overall interest of the country.

It described the government's move as a "thing of embarrassment to members of the NMA and other health workers who are giving their best in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic under deplorable working conditions and a fragile health system to be subjected to the ignominy of not being carried along in arriving at such a decision."

It said the association would review its participation in the fight against COVID-19 considering the grave implications and the risk to the lives of its members should the government allow the Chinese team to come to Nigeria.

It said: "The lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), grossly inadequate test kits and test centres across the country and the absolute lack of any form of insurance for the workforce are primordial issues begging for attention at this time.

"We are, therefore, profoundly dismayed to learn that the federal government is instead inviting the Chinese who from available accounts are not out of the woods themselves. The spike in cases and the death toll from COVID-19 in Italy coincided with the arrival of the Chinese in the guise of offering assistance. Even the United Nations has only just recently commended the efforts of Nigeria so far."

The NMA expressed concern that the government did not take into consideration the extant laws regulating the practice of medicine in Nigeria as enshrined in the Medical and Dental Council Act, adding that the Medical and Dental Council of Nigerian should have been consulted to grant necessary approvals to foreigners to interact with Nigerian patients.

It stated that while the association appreciates the commendable work done by doctors and health workers at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the various isolation centres nationwide, it expected the government to show appreciation by channeling the available resources and donations to improving testing facilities to detect more cases and ramp up capacity to train more workers.

According to Faduyile, NMA is aware of a large pool of general medical and specialist practitioners who are either unemployed or underemployed that can be engaged instead of bringing foreigners who aside from national security concerns may not be conversant with the country's culture, terrain and peculiar challenges.

NMA said: "The association believes that this invitation is ill-timed and of no overbearing significance considering that whatever experiences the Chinese have can be shared by digital technology through conferencing bearing in mind that Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu has only just returned from China.

"We are not averse to the donation of equipment and supplies because we can always do with such support as even the developed countries receive support.

"In rejecting the invitation of the Chinese doctors, the NMA would instead urge the federal government to review and approve better welfare incentives to the frontline medical personnel. The provision of adequate personal protective equipment, opening and properly equipping more isolation centres and health facilities across the country is an excellent first step.

"Deploying more resources to facilitate testing as we are beginning to witness community transmission of COVID 19 is equally a better application of scarce resources."

It advised the government to declare a state of emergency in the health sector and use the opportunity to fix the health institutions as a matter of urgency in a bid to stem the rot.

"The NMA urges the government to expand the Presidential Task Force to include other critical stakeholders, including journalists and the civil society to ensure more robust engagement, especially as the decisions of the task force has implications for the health, wealth and security of our country."

Toeing the same line, the TUC urged the federal government to drop the idea of inviting the Chinese doctors.

The union said the move would not be necessary since Nigerian doctors were capable of combating the pandemic.

In a statement issued yesterday by its President, Mr. Quadri Olaleye, and the Secretary-General, Mr. Musa-Lawal Ozigi, the union said the minimal number of infection and deaths was a proof that the country was not doing badly in the handling of the situation.

"Truly, the Chinese authorities have done well by not recording more cases in their country. It is novel and also shows how proactive and committed they are to the crises.

That notwithstanding, we insist that we do not need them now; rather we shall continue to adhere to the precautions reeled out by the health professionals to make the job easy," it said.

The TUC also noted the debate about the connection between 5G network and the virus.

It said: "Although the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim, in a statement has said no licence had been issued as regards 5G in Nigeria, but at the same time we saw an official letter from a telco company notifying Nigerians that they are the first in West Africa to conduct a trial on 5G technology.

"That makes it a bit confusing. We would want the federal government to set up a committee of professionals to research on the development as it will help to address the fears of many Nigerians. We must collectively work to ensure the welfare, health, and security of Nigerians are not taken for granted. We must be circumspect now."

Lagos Discharges 10-year-old, Four Other Patients

The Lagos State Government has discharged a 10-year-old and four other COVID-19 patients at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba.

This brings to 29 the number of COVID-19 patients who have fully recovered and have been discharged after testing negative for the virus.

Announcing the patients' discharge yesterday, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, said: "Today, I am happy to inform you that five more patients, comprising two males and three females, including a 10-year-old girl, have tested negative twice for COVID-19

"These five patients have been discharged to reunite with their families. This brings to a total of 29, the number of patients who have fully recovered and have been discharged from our facility at Yaba."

He said although there was a strong indication that the state was winning the battle against COVID-19, it was imperative that residents remained steadfast to curtail the spread.

"I strongly advise that we continue to observe social distancing. Let us stay at home and stay safe to save lives," Sanwo-Olu stated, adding: "I want to also use this opportunity to advise Lagosians against stigmatising the discharged patients. We need to do all we can to support them to get over the experience as soon as possible."

Sanwo-Olu also announced the death of a victim of the pandemic in the state, lamenting, however, the death of the patient, which brought to two, the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the state.

The Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, had earlier yesterday tweeted that a 36-year-old man died of the virus in the state.

He said the Nigerian died on Saturday in a private facility.

Abayomi confirmed the death as the second virus fatality recorded in Lagos.

Lagos Police Arrests Funke Akindele for Violating Restriction Orders

Also yesterday in Lagos, the police arrested Nollywood actress, Ms. Funke Akindele, popularly called Jenifa, for violating the stay-at-home restrictions placed by the federal government.

The police also urged her husband, Mr. Abdul Bello, popularly known as JJC Skillz, and another artist, Mr. Azeez Fashola, a.k.a Naira Marley, to report to the station today or risk being declared wanted.

The actress and her husband had hosted family and friends to a birthday party at their Amen Estate residence in Lagos.

Nigerians had flayed Akindele for her role in the party given that she was an ambassador of NCDC and Dettol, two organisations promoting social distancing in the fight against COVID-19.

Videos of Akindele carrying out her ambassadorial work by campaigning for good hygiene and social distancing had also surfaced, making a mockery of the party she held to celebrate her husband's birthday.

In a statement by the Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Bala Elkana, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), the police said the arrest was because she violated the restriction emplaced by the government.

It stated: "The attention of the Lagos State Police Command was drawn to a viral video showing a large number of persons mainly in the entertainment industry in an estate, along Ajah, Ibeju-Lekki axis, Lagos celebrating a birthday party organised by Funke Akindele Bello and her husband.

"Police detectives from the State CID Yaba were promptly drafted to the location. Funke Akindele was arrested.

"Investigation is ongoing, efforts are intensified to arrest the remaining persons in the video, among whom are Azeez Fashola a.k.a Naira Marley and Abdul Rasheed Bello a.k.a. JJC Skillz.

"They are in their best interests urged to report at the State CID Yaba on Monday or risk being declared wanted."

Osun Discharges Index Case, Releases 110 Ivorian Returnees

Meanwhile, the Osun State Government has also discharged the index case in the state and released 110 Ivorian returnees who were isolated over uncertainty about their COVID-19 status.

The Governor, Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola, told reporters in Osogbo that 127 persons from Cote d'Ivoire, who came into the state recently have all been tested, adding that 17 of them tested positive for the virus.

"Upon their arrival in the state, as a proactive measure, we immediately quarantined them at an isolation centre in Ejigbo.

"We later discovered upon profiling that some of these returnees are indigenes and residents of other states such as Oyo, Lagos, Ogun, Imo, Edo, Delta, and Abia, among others. Of the 127 isolated and tested returnees, 17 tested positive for COVID-19 while 110 returned negative. Of the 17, we also have persons from other states," he said.

The governor added that the returnees who tested positive were undergoing adequate and proper treatment at the care centre and were all stable, expressing the hope that they would soon recover safely from the virus and rejoin their families.

"The 110 whose results came back negative have been released to join their families.

Among them are: 11 going to Oyo State; two are going to Lagos State; one to Ogun State; three each to Edo and Abia States; four to Delta State and one to Imo State while 85 will remain here in Osun.

"The released persons have also been advised to observe all prescribed safety and preventive measures and to contact the state if they start to feel unwell," he said.

Confirmed Cases Rise to 232

While also giving an update yesterday on the pandemic, NCDC said 18 more persons had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total count to 232.

NCDC, in a tweet, said 11 of the cases were from Lagos, four from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), two from Edo State and one from Kaduna State.

It said: "As at 09:30 pm 5th April, there are 232 confirmed cases of #COVID19 reported in Nigeria. Thirty-three have been discharged with five deaths."

A breakdown of the figure is as follows:

Lagos- 120; FCT- 47; Osun- 20; Oyo- 9; Edo- 9; Bauchi- 6; Akwa Ibom- 5; Kaduna- 5; Ogun- 4; Enugu- 2; Ekiti- 2; Rivers-1; Benue- 1, and Ondo- 1.

Africa CDC Warns Doctors against Prescribing Chloroquine

Africa Centre for Disease Control (Africa CDC) has warned doctors not to prescribe Chloroquine for COVID-19 patients and that patients should in turn not accept such drugs from doctors.

It added that Chloroquine had the potential to cause heart problems, blindness, neurological issues as well as other forms of toxicity.

In a statement to set the record straight on the growing quest by researchers and medical personnel on the use of Chloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19, it said it was concerned by the inaccurate information being distributed through traditional and social media regarding prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

It said: "Based on a review of evidence and expert assessment, we recommend that physicians should not prescribe, and individuals should not take Chloroquine or Hydroxychloroquine to prevent or treat COVID-19 except under clinical trial or monitored emergency use of unregistered or investigational interventions (MEURI). These drugs can cause neurological, ophthalmic, cardiac and other forms of toxicity.

"Physicians should not prescribe and individuals should not take Lopinavir/ Rotinavir, Remdesivir or other medications to prevent or treat COVID-19 except under clinical trial or MEURI."

It, however, recommended that paracetamol, acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be used to relieve symptoms of fever and/or myalgia due to viral infection.

It said physicians should use evidence-based guidance when treating patients with COVID-19 infection, such as that published by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"Clinical trials and MUERI should follow WHO guidance on ethical issues in infectious disease outbreaks.

"We will continuously update its guidance based on the latest available clinical evidence," it said.

The United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention also warned that using Chloroquine phosphate without a prescription and supervision of a healthcare provider can cause "serious health consequences."

The CDC said doctors and other public health officials should discourage the public from misusing non-pharmaceutical Chloroquine phosphate (a chemical used in home aquariums) and further advised patients and the public that Chloroquine, and the related compound Hydroxychloroquine, should be used only under the supervision of a healthcare provider as prescribed medications.

UBTH Confirms Three, Isolates 24 Health Workers

The University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH) has isolated some of its health workers exposed to COVID-19 patients, the Chief Medical Director of the hospital, Prof. Darlington Obaseki, has said.

In a statement made available to THISDAY yesterday, Obaseki said the health workers were exposed to the patients prior to the confirmation of their status.

He said: "We have so far received three patients who have been confirmed positive with COVID-19. The two surviving patients are currently being cared for by our dedicated staff in an isolation ward with restricted access.

"Prior to confirmation of their COVID-19 status, some of our healthcare staff was exposed to them while using only personal protection, which includes surgical face-masks and gloves."

He said currently, all the staff that were exposed to the patients were asymptomatic and that they were being monitored closely according to current guidelines.

He said: "Further measures have been put in place to ensure that our staff are not unduly exposed to risks of infection with COVID-19 in the course of them providing care for patients who come to the hospital for various reasons.

"Healthcare workers are on the front lines in this pandemic and therefore at a higher risk of being exposed than the general public."

Pandemic Has Exposed Poor Quality Leadership in Nigeria, Says Okogie

In a former Archbishop of Lagos, Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, has said the outbreak of COVID-19 has been a dangerous yet a revelatory moment in Nigeria, having exposed the low-grade leadership style of government.

According to him "It is dangerous because this deadly pandemic has infected over a million and killed thousands of citizens of our planet. No one seems to know when and how it will end. But COVID-19 is also revelatory, a blessing in disguise because it has exposed Nigeria as a country where the quality of leadership is of low grade. What we have known but has been denied for so long is now shown to us as an incontrovertible fact that the quality of leadership in our country must improve."

The cardinal, in a statement at the weekend, which he personally signed, however, said in the midst of poor-quality leadership, Nigerians must speak in laudatory terms about Sanwo-Olu; his Commissioner for Health, Abayomi, and his entire team for rising to the occasion.

"For right or wrong reasons, Lagosians have been critical of his government since its inauguration on May 29, 2019. But it must be admitted that with a population said to be close to 15 million, if Governor Sanwo-Olu and his team had not provided outstandingly exemplary leadership, we would have had a more dangerous situation in our hands," he said.

Okogie added: "At the risk of making a hasty judgment, it is to be placed on record that, as at the time this is being written, Sanwo-Olu and his team have largely prevented the spread of the virus in Lagos.

"Let us pray for them and encourage them so that they will continue to show exemplary leadership to other political office holders in Nigeria."

According to him, "COVID-19 has also revealed to us that, rather than invest in good health care service delivery in Nigeria, we have a political arrangement that makes it possible, even encouraging, to waste Nigeria's money on government officials and health tourism abroad. Thanks to our country's constitution dubbed federal. The government in Nigeria is embarrassingly big, sinfully expensive, prone to corruption, and scandalously inefficient. Nigeria cannot adequately invest in the sectors of health and education because, among other reasons, the constitution of Nigeria has established offices that will require an endless flow of petrol-dollars to maintain."

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