Nigeria: COVID-19 - Nigeria Air Force Pitches in to Save the Day

It is easy to consider the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), in terms of war and combat only. In the last couple of months, the force has shown that it can also win the war against poverty and inhumanity by showing its humane side and helping to lift many out of the dust and on their feet, especially in these trying times when many, faced with the coronavirus, have lost forms of livelihood and cannot feed themselves when they should.

As the nation struggled under the weight of growing COVID-19 cases and many wondered how the nation would cope when faced by the wrath of the quick-spreading virus (especially after the 'ugly' ventilator saga with Elon Musk on Twitter), the NAF quickly moved and, within three weeks, unveiled 2 emergency ventilators produced by a team of researchers from the Air Force Research and Development Centre (AFRDC) and Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) Kaduna, in partnership with the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, and the Department of Megatronics, Federal University of Technology, Minna. The emergency ventilators, tagged 'NAF E-Vents', were unveiled on 27 May, 2020, by the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, in Kaduna.

Before it was unveiled, the prototype ventilators had been successfully tested on animal (both canine and porcine) subjects, to demonstrate the capacity of the ventilators to support recovery of patients with respiratory diseases, including acute lung Injury and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The tests were also necessary to validate the effectiveness of the 'Assist Ventilation Mode', where the ventilator detects a breath from a patient being treated and synchronises the equipment with the patient's breathing.

Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar had noted that the NAF had engaged in strategic partnerships with some ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), so as to reduce dependence on other nations. "Our modest efforts have yielded results and positively impacted our operations," the CAS added - but not without pointing out that private sector investment would be required for mass production of the ventilators.

The Force's Director of Research & Development, AVM Paul Jemitola, confessed that the huge strides made by the force stemmed from its efficient, high quality training of personnel."By investing in high quality training of personnel, innovative approaches to issues and encouraging out-of-the-box thinking, a lot of solutions to operational challenges in the NAF have been locally developed through R&D, thereby saving huge resources," he said.

It may be recalled that the NAF, in furtherance of its constitutional role of providing military aid to civil authority (MACA), had earlier detailed an aircraft to airlift a team of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) health officials from Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo, where they had travelled to undergo a World Health Organisation training programme on the management of COVID-19, but became stranded due to closure of air and land borders by the Government of Congo Brazzaville.

Furthermore, the NAF airlifted some healthcare professionals from the Irua Specialist Teaching Hospital in Edo State to Abuja and continues to avail its aircraft for the airlifting of relief materials, as well as officials of the Federal and State Ministries of Health and NCDC to enable them sustain their vital functions. It may also be recalled that the NAF had, on 24 March, 2020, airlifted medical materials consisting of 107 boxes of medical supplies and equipment donated by the Jack Ma Foundation. Moreover, the NAF, through its Liquid Oxygen Plant at the 103 Strike Group, Yola, is also producing oxygen for distribution to isolation centres and designated hospitals across the country in support of the national response to the COVID-19 emergency.

As regards the safety of its personnel and their families, the NAF has taken elaborate steps to deal with the COVID-19 threat. Since the first confirmed case in Nigeria in February 2020, the Medical Branch of the Service has undertaken a comprehensive sensitisation campaign across all NAF units while emplacing necessary measures to prevent outbreak amongst personnel and their dependants.

Air Marshal Abubakar has assured time and again that NAF, in conjunction with sister services and other security agencies, would continue to mobilise its human and material resources and make available its assets to ensure that COVID-19 is defeated. He therefore enjoined all NAF personnel to maintain prescribed personal hygiene and social distancing precautionary measures, whilst eschewing fake news and complying with all directives issued by Defence Headquaerters, including staying at home, where applicable. He noted that by banding together and complying with these precautions, the Nation would collectively overcome the challenge posed by COVID-19.

While the force was busy with its coordinated, near-nationwide intervention to reduce hunger and starvation during the lock-down borne by the coronavirus, the NAF Officers' Wives Association (NAFOWA) was busy with its activities to commemorate the 56th anniversary of the force, with donation of food items and other palliatives to widows, single mothers and other indigent households in Enugu, Yenagoa, Bauchi, Lagos, Makurdi and Kaduna. The palliatives were distributed by chairpersons of the various NAFOWA Command Chapters between April 23 and 25, 2020.

Native communities of the Federal Capital Territory - Bassa, Sauka and Wulumo in Abuja Municipal Area Council and Ushafa, Nuwalege and Zamani in Bwari Area Council - were not left out. Over 550 families were given a reason to smile, as bags of beans, rice, semovita, instant noodles and condiments were given to different families for the up-keep.

Clearly, the distribution, done more from humane objectives than a need for show, had one message: eat, live healthy, observe a good personal hygiene regimen, keep your children and yourself safe.

The force has been known for its service to humanity and, while this outpour of human kindness is laudable, encouraging and heart-warming, it leaves no one in doubt that the force is truly willing, able and ready.

Pembi David-Stephen wrote from Abuja.

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