Nigeria: COVID-19 - Govt to Engage 800,000 Volunteers to Sensitise Communities

29 May 2020

The federal government is to engage 800,000 volunteers nationwide to sensitise Nigerians on the dangers and spread of COVID-19, the National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Dr Sani Aliyu, said thursday in Abuja.

He added that another 880 people were trained on sample collection, packaging and transportation.

And faced with an upsurge in the number of cases and shortage of bed space, the government is considering repurposing hotels and schools to serve as quarantine and isolation centres for COVID-19 patients.

Nigeria recorded 182 new cases of the virus yesterday, bringing to 8,915 the total number of persons infected.

Announcing this last night, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said Lagos recorded 111 new cases of the disease, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) 16, Akwa Ibom 10, Oyo eight, Kaduna and Delta six each, Rivers five, Ogun and Ebonyi four each, Kano three, Plateau, Gombe and Kebbi two each, while Kebbi, Bauchi and Borno have one each.

It said the virus had claimed 259 persons.

Meanwhile, PTF said it would on Sunday submit its next report to President Muhammadu Buhari, explaining that it would inform his decision on the next phase of measures to be taken in the gradual reopening of the economy.

Speaking yesterday in Abuja at a press briefing by PTF, Aliyu said the over 800,000 community engagement partners would be drawn from all the 774 local government areas of the federation to sensitise the public about the community spread of the virus and disseminate life-saving messages.

Aliyu said PTF would engage the partners for the campaign using existing community structures to disseminate messages to the grassroots.

The partners include National Orientation Agency (NOA), Nigeria Red Cross, UNICEF, NYSC members, National Council of Women Societies, Jamaatul Nasri Islam and Yar'Adua Foundation.

He said: "The volunteers are all Nigerians who live in the communities and have been trained to engage and educate community members in their local languages and dialects.

"Our overall goal is to ensure that everyone has the information they need to protect themselves. The volunteers will be risking their lives for the greater good of Nigerians by providing the basic information we need so that we can change our behaviour and stop the spread of COVID-19."

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the ministry had produced videos and radio jingles on general information on COVID -19, use of face masks, burial protocol, testimonials by COVID-19 survivors and mass gathering.

He said the jingles were currently running on 10 television channels, while the jingles were also running on 40 radio stations nationwide.

The minister added that the aggressive and sustained campaign on the social media had gained traction as in the last five days alone, some of the videos posted had been viewed over 1,068,614 times.

FG Trains 880 for Sample Collection Nationwide

NCDC Director-General, Dr. Chike Ihekweazu, stated that the initial challenge of the agency was on the collection and transportation of samples.

The centre was also faced with the challenge of leakage of samples.

He said to surmount the challenge, the agency had trained 880 people on collection, packaging and transportation of samples.

Ihekweazu explained that NCDC also targets to have one testing laboratory in each of the 36 states.

FG to Repurpose Hotels, Schools for Isolation Centres

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, stated that hotels and school dormitories would be turned into isolation centres to accommodate COVID-19 patients due to shortage of bed space, if the upsurge in the number of cases continues.

He, however, said the situation in Nigeria would not "experience horrific scenes of bed space shortages seen in some European hospitals."

He said: "We are, not surprisingly, worried about the increasing number of COVID-19 confirmed cases; first because every life matters, but also because of the capacity of our health system to cope.

"Nigeria presently has over 112 treatment and isolation centres in the 35 states and FCT with over 5,000 beds, but not all states have made it up to at least 300 beds prescribed for isolation and treatment.

"I had the privilege of commissioning one such centre yesterday, a repurposed hospital in Benin City, Edo State, with 300 beds, including ICU and an Edo State-owned PCR testing laboratory. We need to continue increasing bed capacity to match the probable number of patients, so that we do not experience horrific scenes of bed space shortages seen in some European hospitals.

"In the event of overflow, we can require hotels and school dormitories to be prepared for level 1 (Quarantine) and level 2 Isolation (of COVID-19 positive with zero or mild symptoms), to free hospital beds to be dedicated to level 3, (moderate to severe cases) and level 4, (high dependency and intensive care unit).

"I, therefore, call on activists and philanthropists to work with state governments in concerted steps to scale up non-pharmaceutical measures and beef up infrastructural assets for isolation and treatment in their states.

"Though we are in the community transmission phase of the response, easing social restrictions is desirable, but only if we can meet up with expectations that will not allow a spike in infection rates. This is what has led certain countries to reintroduce lockdowns. We are reviewing the health sector-specific advisories on re-opening the economy."

PTF to Submit Report to Buhari on Sunday

PTF has said it would by Sunday submit its report to the president to make a decision on the easing of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Chairman of the task force and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, said at the briefing yesterday that the report would be submitted after concluding its assessment on the impact of the measures put in place for the control of the spread of the virus.

He said it would be left for the president to make further decisions after receiving the report and further recommendations.

Mustapha added that the Federal Ministry of Health has held a virtual conference with the traditional medicine practitioners on how to find a cure for the virus.

He said the issues discussed covered intellectual property rights protection, need for non-disclosure agreements and funding opportunities for research and validation processes.

The SGF denied media reports that three remedies from the traditional medicine practitioners had been shortlisted for validation.

He said such could only be done after diligent process and as might be advised by the relevant agencies.

He also condemned reports of the continued refusal by medical institutions to receive and treat patients for fear of COVID-19.

Mustapha explained that this has resulted in unfortunate and avoidable fatalities, adding that statistics has shown a drastic drop in the percentage of attention being paid to other ailments not related to COVID-19.

"This situation is made worse by the fact that federal tertiary institutions have been mentioned among those rejecting patients for fear of COVID-19. This is not acceptable. We are saddened by this development," he said.

FG Refers Madagascar Herbal Mixture to Agencies for Analysis

Ehanire also said he had forwarded the Malagasy herbal drug to three agencies of the Ministry of Health and also to the Ministry of Science and Technology for analysis.

"The Madagascan herbs have been received at the Ministry of Health, and were found to consist of two varieties; one labelled to be for prevention and the other for treatment. Samples have been given to three agencies of the Ministry of Health and also to the Ministry of Science and Technology," he added.

Ehanire explained that the process for certifying new preparations for use in Nigeria included toxicological and efficacy tests and clinical trials.

Similarly, the minister said proposals for the trial of local remedies for the disease had been sent to the relevant research and testing agencies for scientific evaluation.

According to him, the government would investigate all genuine efforts to find homegrown solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic.

PSN Kicks as Stakeholders Back Planned Reopening of Schools

Meanwhile, health experts such as the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) have kicked against the federal government's plan to reopen schools, saying the decision is ill-timed and capable of slowing down the fight against the pandemic, stakeholders in the education sector have backed the federal government's plan.

Speaking with THISDAY yesterday, the President of PSN, Mr. Sam Ohuabunwa, said the COVID-19 infection rate was still climbing, noting that it would be difficult for children to strictly adhere to physical distancing and other protocols put in place for the prevention of the virus.

He said: "We know the government cannot shut down schools for too long. So, it is understandable it is mulling the idea of resuming through a plan to stagger the time between morning and afternoon classes, but the question we must ask the Ministry of Education is when it is planning to implement this.

"Opening schools now will be a mistake and will be dangerous for our fight against COVID-19 because infection rates are still climbing. We should open in a manner that is safe. In other climes where infection rates are coming down, their governments are reopening schools first with the postgraduate students resuming.

"If you see what is happening in New York even till now, you will understand we need to tread carefully. In New York, schools have not reopened yet and when they do, they intend to start with the most senior postgraduate students and then ensure social distancing protocols."

He recommended that the government should wait until September before reopening schools.

The immediate past National Chairman, Association of Community Pharmacist of Nigeria (ACPN), Dr. Albert Kelong Alkali, said the government must not jump the gun to regain lost grounds.

He added that it must first ensure teachers and communities were adequately trained on health protocols, coupled with the obvious reduction of COVID-19 cases before reopening.

He said: "We must be careful because children are not like adults. Many adults are not even adhering to physical distancing not to mention children. The government can start with the senior students, say by July, and then in September ask the younger pupils or students to resume."

But the President of All Nigeria Confederation of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPSS), Mr. Anselm Izuagie, said the education system had been disrupted, adding that there's a need to reopen schools so as to end the session and begin a new one.

"So, if dividing the system into morning and afternoon sessions will meet the social distancing guidelines, so be it, provided other parameters are met to ensure that proper hygiene is maintained in schools, because if COVID-19 gets into the school system, it will be colossal," he stated.

He explained that all precautionary measures taken to ensure that the society is safe should be transferred to the school to protect the health of all.

On his part, President of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Chief Yomi Otubela, said the association supported the plan to introduce morning and afternoon sessions, adding that the resumption time should be staggered also.

He, however, said the measure could only be applicable to public schools as most private schools have smaller class sizes.

He noted that other safety measures should be maintained like the restriction of movements during the break to the corridors.

He added that the hygienic measures and equipment used during the Ebola period are still in use in most private schools and have become a culture in schools and among students.

Kogi Govt Rejects NCDC's Claims of Two Cases in the State

Kogi State Government has rejected the claim by NCDC that the state has recorded two COVID-19 cases.

The state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Saka Audu, yesterday disagreed with the claim, saying Kogi is still free of the disease.

Audu said tests not authorised by the state government would be resisted.

In a statement issued in Lokoja, the commissioner explained that the state has developed the full testing capacity and conducted hundreds of tests, which returned negative.

He said the state had also continued to insist that it would not be a party to any fictitious COVID-19 claims which is "why we do not recognise any COVID-19 test conducted by any resident of Kogi State outside the boundaries of the state except those initiated by us."

He stated that any attempt to force the state to announce a case of COVID-19 would be rejected.

However, when asked to explain the circumstances surrounding the confirmation of the COVID-19 index case for Kogi State, Ihekweazu told journalists yesterday in Abuja that there was nothing unusual about the procedure adopted in pronouncing the results from the patients' samples from Kogi State.

"There is actually no dilemma in the two cases; they followed the normal process. The patient was referred from the Federal Medical Centre to the National Hospital, Abuja.

"This is a normal referral pathway when you have a case. I don't have any influence over the physicians in the National Hospital. They suspected COVID-19, based on the clinical symptoms of the patient, asked for a test and it came out positive. The individual lives in Kogi State. In public health response, it is based on where you live because that is where your contact is. So, this is not controversial in any way. Standard practice was followed and once the results came out the state epidiomologist was informed that he has to follow up on the contacts. The state has to do contact tracing around the patient. It is the state responsibility to do that contact tracing and we hope they do it," he said.

'Test Kits Now Sold in Black Markets'

NCDC boss raised the alarm over what he described as a growing black market on rapid diagnostic test kits.

He cautioned Nigerians to adhere to the health advisory by WHO on the use of molecular laboratory for efficient testing.

He said: "It is important that as we open our industries, we really think about the measures that we advise everyone to carry out and leave testing for the purpose for which it is there.

"There is a growing black market on rapid diagnostics test kits in Nigeria. We have to be careful in what we buy, how we use it and how we interpret the results that they provide."

NDDC Shuts down Head Office as Director Dies

Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has shut down its head office in Port Harcourt and directed its workers to self-isolate for 14 days following the death of the Acting Executive Director, Finance and Administration, Mr. Ibanga Bassey Eteng.

The Chairman of Asari Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State, Odiari Princewill, also died on Wednesday night and was buried yesterday at Port Harcourt Cemetery by the officials of the State Rapid Response Team on COVID-19 clad in personal protective equipment.

Though no official statement has been issued by NDDC on the cause of the death of the executive director, the commission has shut down its headquarters directed staff to go on two weeks self-isolation.

The commission, in a memo signed by Silas Anyanwu and circulated to all directorates and departments, also directed the decontamination of offices and premises of the headquarters.

The memo reads in part: "I am directed to inform all staff that management has approved that the commission be shut down for two weeks, from today, May 28, 2020.

"Consequently, the Head, Security is by this memo, directed to work out modalities to ensure safety and security of the commission, while the Director, Administration is requested to fumigate and decontaminate the entire offices and premises in the headquarters during the period.

"Meanwhile, staff are to go into self-isolation for two weeks as they await further directives."

The commission also suspended a press conference to be addressed by its acting Managing Director, Prof. Kemebradikumo Pondei, today.

NCAA Releases New Protocol for International Flights

Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) yesterday released a post-COVID-19 pandemic public health protocols for Nigeria-based crew operating international flights.

Under the protocol, flight crew must now wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and observe Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) measures for the duration of the flight.

The protocol also states that the flight crew would not be quarantined but undergo mandatory testing for COVID-19 every 14 days at a cost to the air operator upon return to Nigeria.

However, flight crew members who test positive for COVID-19 would be taken to a treatment centre for further management.

In a letter with reference NCAA/DG/AIR/11/16/120, dated May 27, 2020 and signed by the Director General, Captain Musa Nuhu, to all operators, airports and other service providers, the agency said the new protocol, which was approved by the Federal Ministry of Health, replaced the current practice where Nigeria-based flight crew members who operate international flights are quarantined for 14 days upon their return to Nigeria.

The letter was made available to journalists in Abuja by Director of Public Affairs, Ministry of Aviation, Mr. James Odaudu.

The letter said Nigeria-based airlines/aircrew wishing to conduct flight operations outside the country should ensure orientation and sensitisation of crew on Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) measures as per training and guidance from public health authorities.

The airlines should also "ensure they have adequate stock of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), minimum 70 per cent alcohol-based hand sanitisers and Universal Precaution Kits (UPK) onboard aircraft before the flight," among other safety guidelines.

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