Nigeria: Arguments of Despair Over COVID-19

6 April 2020

Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that an unnecessary period of bickering delayed critical response time as the Akwa Ibom State government expressed anger over the procedure adopted by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control to disclose the first case of COVID-19 in the state

The war against COVID-19 in Nigeria registered its first round of unnecessary speech-making five days ago when the Akwa Ibom State government complained loudly and expressed disapproval over the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control's (NCDC) announcement that five cases of Coronavirus were identified in the state. After a round of huff and puff about the first confirmed case of the infection in Akwa Ibom, Governor Udom Emmanuel eventually moved into action to contain the disease.

With the established case of COVID-19 in Akwa Ibom, the number of states which have reported, at least, one confirmed case of the infection in Nigeria now stands at 12, apart from the FCT.

A breakdown of states where cases of the novel virus have been confirmed as at 11:15am on April 5, show that there are 224 confirmed cases, 27 discharged, 5 deaths, Lagos- 115, FCT- 45, Osun- 20, Oyo- 9, Edo- 9, Bauchi- 6, Akwa Ibom- 5, Ogun- 4, Kaduna- 4, Enugu- 2, Ekiti- 2, Rivers-1 Benue- 1 and Ondo- 1. This information was distributed by APO Group, a media relations consulting firm and press release distribution service in Africa and the Middle East on behalf of the NCDC.

Last February 24 when an Italian, the first index in Nigeria was reported in Lagos, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu rose quickly to the occasion. The measures adopted by the state has been widely commended by the Federal Government and global institutions. For many, Lagos became an example of how to respond to the pandemic. At that time, other states including Akwa Ibom were, at best, living in denial of the existence of the disease. Although, it is still within the critical bracket, the Lagos State government has demonstrated respectable capacity by giving very serious attention to the pandemic. It would take over one month and following a lot of badgering from concerned persons and groups for President Muhammadu Buhari to declare a national emergency in a broadcast to the nation on March 29.

Akwa Ibom Governor Denies Reports of COVID-19

One week before the Presidential broadcast on COVID-19, Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State had debunked reports on social media platforms on the status of Coronavirus disease in the state.

He insisted there is no confirmed case of the virus anywhere in the state.

Governor Emmanuel said his administration had put in place adequate measures to curtail the spread of the dreaded Coronavirus in the state.

"You may have read a rash of mischievous information peddled by certain media platforms on the status of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in our State.

"I want to assure the public that the rumours and information going around on social media are completely false. For emphasis, let me state here unequivocally that there is no confirmed case of COVID-19 disease in Akwa Ibom State.

"As a matter of fact, the measures put in place at our airport is comprehensive and has no parallel anywhere in West Africa," the governor boasted.

He disclosed a number of measures taken to curtail the spread of the disease. Emmanuel ended the address, saying there was no, "need to shut down our public schools," which were supposed to close in one week's time.

Early Warning for FCT, Akwa Ibom, Seven Other States

In the second week of February, about two weeks before the first COVID-19 index case was identified, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had listed Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Kano, Rivers, Enugu, Delta, Bayelsa and the Federal Capital territory as states with high risk of Coronavirus outbreak in Nigeria.

Dhamari Naidoo, Technical Officer, Health Emergency Programme of the UN specialized agency, disclosed in Abuja that after a risk assessment, Nigeria was rated high because of frequent travel between Nigeria and China. She noted that WHO focused on the nine states that have ports of entry into the country (land, water and air).

While Lagos and Akwa Ibom's neighbours, Rivers and Cross River went to work on the caution, there was apparent complacency in Akwa Ibom. For instance, while Governors Ben Ayade and Nyesom Wike of Cross River and Rivers states respectively shut schools and access into their states, in Akwa Ibom, it was business as usual. Therefore, it is not surprising that out of all the states that got the early warning from WHO, Akwa Ibom is the hardest hit with five established case of Coronavirus, because Akwa Ibom did not handle the challenge as well as other states.

The Akwa Ibom State government constituted its Coronavirus taskforce almost one month after the WHO notice. Assuring newsmen of the state's preparedness, Commissioner for Health, Dr. Dominic Ukpong, disclosed that the state government had equipped facilities in private and public hospitals and also put on the alert. He said that isolation wards were constructed in hospitals with emergency operation centre in Ikot Ekpene. He added that the state government was in close contact with the NCDC, which had already inspected facilities in the state.

Surprising Argument with NCDC

Following its assumed preparedness and the supposed cooperation with the NCDC, it was shocking to find the public space awash with dispute between the Akwa Ibom State government and the NCDC over the presence or otherwise of COVID-19 in the state. Immediately the NCDC announced discovery of five cases of the novel virus in the state, the state countered it and demanded a "reconfirmation."

Through its Commissioner for Health, Dr. Dominic Ukpong, Akwa Ibom State government claimed that there was "a disturbing breach in the test and reporting procedure" by the NCDC. Its major contention was that the agency should have reported its finding first to the state government instead of going public with the news.

Ukpong argued that "All 5 reported positive test cases have been contacted and they have showed no COVID-19 symptoms.

"Owing to the irregularities observed in the testing and reporting procedure, Health Care Professionals in Akwa Ibom State have called for an immediate reconfirmation test on the 5 reported cases," the statement said.

The government said samples they have sent to the NCDC for the COVID-19 testing have all returned negative results.

"While the tests were being processed in NCDC approved test facilities, all suspected cases were held in isolation.

"Health Care Professionals in Akwa Ibom State have appealed to the NCDC to ensure that all future tests are conducted following due process in order to maintain continued confidence in the process," the statement said.

Some doctors who were contacted at the University of the Uyo Teaching Hospital sided with the state government. They claimed that the 17 persons whose blood samples were taken were their colleagues who voluntarily drove to the state ministry of health. "Till now nobody has told them of the result and they are still interacting with the rest of the us and other members of the public. They have not been quarantined. Is the NCDC not supposed to tell them if their test result was negative or positive? We agree that the state government reacted late, but once the NCDC established presence of COVID-19 in Akwa Ibom, the right to do was to inform the state government to activate its protocol on the novel virus."

As a direct of the foggy information on who the five health workers at the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital (UUTH) are, staff of the hospital are reported to be reluctant to report for duty, in a bid to avoid contracting Coronavirus.

However, the Chief Medical Director of Ibom Specialist Hospital, Professor Emmanuel Ekanem has been in the news giving messages of hope. Commending the leadership of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria and the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, he praised the team spirit among health care professionals in the state, saying there will be no mortality in Akwa Ibom after the COVID-19 scourge. He hinted that the five Coronavirus victims in Akwa Ibom were in stable condition.

NCDC Insists There's COVID-19 in Akwa Ibom

However, the NCDC has maintained that its COVID-19 statistics on Akwa Ibom cannot be contested. Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director-General of the agency, emphasized the importance of doing away with politicking. He said, "This is not a time to release press statements against anybody. It is time to come together."

Insisting that the test was carried out in a trusted laboratory, Ihekweazu claimed, "Every new case in a state always leave a little bit of anxiety and people need time to accept that these results are what they are. I have no reason to doubt the results coming out from any of our labs and especially the Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital. There is no result anybody will give without verifying. We are working very hard to make sure these results are correct. Sometimes we delay in releasing these results because the test is being repeated so that we can be very sure," he added.

The NCDC boss appeared to reassure the Akwa Ibom State government of another window of opportunity for confirmation. According to him, the reported cases "will be retested at a specific time. After every positive case, we would retest anyway after three to four days. The only way to know if people are recovering or not is by retesting them so that will be done."

Jolted into Action

A couple of hours after the NCDC disclosure of COVID-19 cases in Akwa Ibom, Governor Udom Emmanuel announced a 14-day lockdown in the state to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

Emmanuel revealed that the confirmed cases were mostly health professionals, who had contact with a foreigner that later tested positive for the virus. He said the lockdown was to enable tracing those, who may have been exposed to the five confirmed victims.

He stated only properly identified persons on essential duty will be allowed to go about their lawful duties, "I am hereby announcing a complete cessation of movement in the state extended to period of 14 days. There will be no movement of persons except those on essential duties, who must carry a proper means of identification. The confirmed cases who are mostly healthcare professionals are in good health and have so far presented no symptoms. They have been moved to the isolation centres for proper management and the process of contact tracing has begun. All business premises, markets, shops, motor parks and offices must remain closed during this period. The only exception will be pharmacies and grocery shops. All events of any nature are prohibited during this period. Relevant security agencies have been briefed and they will ensure strict compliance with this directive."

In view of the serious and imminent threat to public health by the pandemic, Governor Udom Emmanuel has exercised the powers conferred on him by "Sections 4 and 8 of the Quarantine Act, Cap. Q2, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and Section 1 (1) (c) of the Akwa Ibom State Infectious Disease(Control of Spread) Law, 2014, and all other enabling powers." The new law covers all the 31 local government areas of the state.

"The whole area of land mass and water that constitute Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria consisting of thirty-one (31) Local Government Areas is hereby declared a Local Health Area."

The directives ensure that: commercial tricycles shall carry not more than two passengers only; mini buses shall carry not more than one passenger per row; and a private vehicle shall carry not more than two persons at the back seat and one on the front Seat.

"All public burials, public weddings, and other forms of public gatherings are for the time being hereby prohibited.

"All places of religious worship, churches, and mosques shall strictly observe the social distancing prescription of a minimum of one metre spacing and not more than twenty persons per gathering. In addition, hand washing facility with running water, soap and sanitizer shall be made available," the governor said.

Although the government placed a ban on all public parks, shops, eateries, clubs, restaurants, markets and offices within the state, it however granted waiver on those selling foodstuffs, drugs and other essential commodities.

According to the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Charles Udoh, the state government will prosecute anyone found culpable of disobeying the directive.

Ministry Asks for N95.1million

Further evidence that the Akwa Ibom State government has accepted the test results from the NCDC emerged from a memo MH/COM20/GH/VOL.V/284 dated April 2-2020 from Ukpong seeking Governor Emmanuel's approval for the sum of Ninety-five million, one hundred and thirty-four thousand Naira (N95,134,000.00) to provide materials and maintain volunteers for a period of four weeks at Ibom Specialist Hospital where the CO)VID-19 positive patients are being managed.

The piece of communication tilted, 'Memo on Treatment/Containment of the Spread of COVID-19 in Akwa Ibom State' revealed that "Unfortunately, Akwa Ibom State has recorded five positive cases all linked to an American medical personnel on free medical mission to the state. Consequently, state public health has taken the positive cases to our isolation centre in Ibom Specialist Hospital, Uyo for treatment, other measures to trace their contacts have been put on high gear."

QUICK FACTS:

*The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has announced that five cases of Coronavirus were identified in Akwa Ibom State, but the state government complained that the disclosure did not follow established protocol

*With the established case of COVID-19 in Akwa Ibom, the number of states which have reported, at least, one confirmed case of the infection in Nigeria now stands at 12, apart from the FCT

* A breakdown of states where cases of the novel virus have been confirmed as at 11:15am on April 5, show that there are 224 confirmed cases, 27 discharged, 5 deaths, Lagos- 115, FCT- 45, Osun- 20, Oyo- 9, Edo- 9, Bauchi- 6, Akwa Ibom- 5, Ogun- 4, Kaduna- 4, Enugu- 2, Ekiti- 2, Rivers-1 Benue- 1 and Ondo- 1

*At the time when the first index case in Nigeria was discovered in Lagos last February, other states including Akwa Ibom were, at best, living in denial of the existence of the disease

*Although, it is still within the critical bracket, the Lagos State government has demonstrated respectable capacity by giving very serious attention to the pandemic

* It would take over one month and following a lot of badgering from concerned persons and groups for President Muhammadu Buhari to declare a national emergency in a broadcast to the nation on March 29

* One week before the Presidential broadcast on COVID-19, Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State had debunked reports on social media platforms on the status of Coronavirus disease in the state. He insisted there is no confirmed case of the virus anywhere in the state

*In the second week of February, about two weeks before the first COVID-19 index case was identified, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had listed Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Kano, Rivers, Enugu, Delta, Bayelsa and the Federal Capital territory as states with high risk of Coronavirus outbreak in Nigeria

*Out of all the states that got the early warning from WHO, Akwa Ibom is the hardest hit with five established case of Coronavirus, because Akwa Ibom did not handle the challenge as well as other states

* The Akwa Ibom State government constituted its Coronavirus taskforce almost one month after the WHO notice

*Immediately the NCDC announced discovery of five cases of the novel virus in the state, the state countered it and demanded a "reconfirmation." Through its Commissioner for Health, Dr. Dominic Ukpong, Akwa Ibom State government claimed that there was "a disturbing breach in the test and reporting procedure" by the NCDC

*However, the NCDC has maintained that its COVID-19 statistics on Akwa Ibom cannot be contested. Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director-General of the agency, emphasized the importance of doing away with politicking

*A couple of hours after the NCDC disclosure of COVID-19 cases in Akwa Ibom, Governor Udom Emmanuel announced a 14-day lockdown in the state to prevent the spread of Coronavirus

*In view of the serious and imminent threat to public health by the pandemic, Governor Udom Emmanuel has exercised the powers conferred on him by "Sections 4 and 8 of the Quarantine Act, Cap. Q2, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and Section 1 (1) (c) of the Akwa Ibom State Infectious Disease(Control of Spread) Law, 2014, and all other enabling powers

*A memo: MH/COM20/GH/VOL.V/284 dated April 2-2020 from Health Commissioner of Akwa Ibom State, Dr. Dominic Ukpong seeks Governor Emmanuel's approval for the sum of Ninety-five million, one hundred and thirty-four thousand Naira (N95,134,000.00) to provide materials and maintain volunteers for a period of four weeks at Ibom Specialist Hospital where the CO)VID-19 positive patients are being managed

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