Nigeria: Govt Scrambles for Oxygen As COVID-19 Deaths Rise

Abuja and Ilorin — The federal government said on Monday it is working towards getting more oxygen to attend to emergencies as cases of deaths occasioned by coronavirus keep increasing.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation and PTF Chairman, Boss Mustapha, stated this in Abuja during the briefing of the task force.

The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 said the number of hospitalised people is on the increase and the major concern of the government is to have enough oxygen nationwide to attend to emergencies.

"An enhanced risk communication strategy becomes inevitable when we realise that within the last 24 hours, the world witnessed the largest single day cases of 230,370 while in Nigeria, last week recorded the highest weekly fatality of 70 deaths," the SGF said.

He said there were plans to establish one sample collection centre in each of the 774 local government areas in the 36 states of the federation and the FCT.

Why oxygen/ventilators are important

Artificial oxygen supply is provided when a patient has low oxygen.

Tanks of oxygen are used to treat people with breathing problems, a common problem faced by some COVID-19 patients.

It can be introduced into the body through a nasal cannula or via a face mask and the patient then uses the oxygen to breath by his or herself.

And when the case is severe, a ventilator is deployed.

Ventilator is a machine that provides mechanical ventilation by moving breathable air into and out of the lungs to deliver breaths to a patient who is physically unable to breathe, or breathing insufficiently.

Ventilators, which are sometimes called respirators, are chiefly used in intensive care and emergency medicine.

In April 2020, Nigeria had only 169 ventilators in sixteen out of the 36 states of the federation, according to a tally by this newspaper but the numbers have significantly improved as both the federal and state governments have imported many of the machines.

Donor agencies from within and outside Nigeria have also imported ventilators, oxygen and other equipment to support the fight against the pandemic.

Some public and private universities in the country have fabricated the machines as part of their support.

'Nigeria needs 10,000 respirators'

A respiratory expert who craved for anonymity said Nigeria requires at least 10, 000 respirators for emergency cases.

According to him, the country has less than 500 ventilators at the moment, adding that it is mostly public tertiary hospitals that have them.

He said ventilators are very important equipment, not only being used for treatment of COVID-19, but other respiratory illnesses, adding that it was important for all hospitals to have them.

However, Dr Ifeanyi Casmir, a public health expert said rather than focusing on oxygen supply, the presidential task force should focus on testing more Nigerians and revamping the health system from primary to tertiary level so that people could have confidence and return to visiting the hospitals.

He said most of the deaths attributed to COVID-19 were not wholly because of the virus but because most public hospitals were closed or providing skeletal services that made medical care inaccessible to the populace, especially for those with underlying ailments.

He said till date, Nigeria had not done enough testing on COVID-19, saying less than 200, 000 people have been tested so far out of a population of 200 million.

"This represents less than 1 per cent of the population," he said.

Dr Casmir said the case fatality rate of COVID-19 in the country is still between 2.5 per cent and 4 per cent while the death rate is still under 1per cent of the reported cases.

Rather than being reactionary, he said it was time for the task force to give priority to issues based on valid data and evidence of need.

"They have not tested a reasonable number of people.

"They should rather channel the energy of contracting oxygen supply nationwide to testing more Nigerians, boosting the moral of health workers which is still low and revamping our health system," he said.

Government tasks workers on virtual meetings

The SGF also said the reopening of airports for domestic flights should not be a license for travelling by government officials for meetings.

Mustapha said that Nigerians must remain vigilant as the pandemic would not go away by a wish; neither would it go away if people refused to keep safe.

He said: "Please let us all resolve to play our part, while the government does its best to save lives and livelihood.

"To this end, all government offices shall continue to hold virtual meetings in their offices especially where participants exceed four persons and suspend all unnecessary travels for meetings.

"For corporate organisations, board members, among others, the reopening of the domestic flights should not be misconstrued.

"The PTF strongly encourages virtual meetings as well.

"We still urge places of worship to cautiously follow the guidelines on public gatherings; and we urge members of the political class to exercise utmost circumspection in their gathering for whatever reasons," he said.

According to him, the decision was part of the outcome of the PTF mid-term Review of the National Response Strategy.

He said the review meeting had in attendance legislators including the chairmen of the relevant committees on health in the Senate and House of Representatives, the Office of the Vice President, ministers, diplomatic community as well as development partners.

Mustapha said that the rising cases of fatalities in Nigeria were not unconnected with denial and delay in seeking help.

He, however, said that contracting COVID-19 is not a death sentence, "but not presenting oneself for testing or treatment when symptoms become observable could likely lead to avoidable death."

Current statistics on infections

Also speaking at the briefing, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said 13,447 COVID-19 infected people have been treated and discharged.

He also said Nigeria had recorded 740 deaths connected to the dreaded coronavirus.

According to him, Nigeria had carried out 183,294 COVID-19 tests, saying 28,296 of them within three weeks, while 32,558 persons in total have been confirmed positive.

"The high figures within the past week compared to the previous weeks suggest an increase in the pace of testing but also in infection incidence.

"I emphasise again that conscientious wearing of masks is being confirmed in various studies as the easiest, cheapest and most reliable way to check the rate of spread.

"Some countries have made it mandatory by law and imposed a fine for noncompliance.

"Regular washing of hands, avoiding crowds, social distancing and use of a minimum of 65 per cent alcohol based sanitizers remain as relevant as at the beginning," the minister said.

He said that the aim of the government was to further reduce the number of fatalities by ensuring that those defined as vulnerable were protected with non- pharmaceutical measures and giving priority for admission to observation or treatment centres even if they do not yet have symptoms.

The minister also said that the ministry will encourage and prioritise patronage of locally made commodities which met the minimum specification.

COVID-19 now airborne

The federal government said on Monday that COVID-19 can now be transmitted through the atmosphere.

The Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said this during the PTF briefing on COVID-19 in Abuja.

"Understanding the mode of transmission of any new virus is very critical for defining response strategy.

"For COVID-19 from the very beginning, our understanding based on other coronaviruses spread was primarily through droplets, excretion from the respiratory tract that can't stay on air but ultimately fall to the ground after a few minutes.

"However, as we have studied transmission, we saw increasing evidence from clusters of infection that droplets transmission does not seem to be enough to explain the clusters that we are seeing.

"Over the past few weeks, increasing evidence has emerged that in addition to droplet infection, we cannot rule out that airborne transmission is also possible as a mode of transmission of COVID-19 and WHO has updated its guidelines on this saying exactly the same thing," Ihekweazu said.

He said this means that staying together in close spaces and clusters such as in restaurants, small rooms with very poor ventilation increases the risk of transmission.

"Indoor activities are riskier than outdoor activities especially when there are many people in a room, when they don't adhere to distancing and when people don't wear masks.

"This means we have to strengthen further the avoidance of mass gatherings or gatherings of any nature in small spaces.

"So we have to pay attention to ventilation, distancing, stay outside as preferred to inside, continue to wash your hands and absolutely wear a mask whenever we are outside the home.

"We will keep adapting our guidelines as we progress.

"It is not shameful to change your guidelines from week to week as new evidence emerges.

"That is what we are committed to doing.

"To guide the response by our leaders, to give them the best evidence possible to make the very hard decisions that we need to make collectively as we learn to live with this outbreak as safely as possible over the months to come," the NDDC boss said.

35 doctors infected in Kwara

Thirty-five medical doctors have so far tested positive for coronavirus in Kwara State since the virus manifested in the state.

Speaking with journalists on the events marking the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) 2020 Annual General Meeting (AGM), in Ilorin, on Monday, the chairman of the association, Dr Kolade Solagberu, however, said that the association had not recorded any casualty among its members.

It would be recalled that as at 7 pm on Sunday, Kwara State had 401 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 208 active patients, 179 persons discharged while 14 died as a result of the disease.

The NMA chairman, who cautioned residents of the state that COVID-19 is real, added that they should disregard rumours saying the pandemic was only a money- making avenue for the government.

"Residents should help the doctors to help them by not paying unnecessary visits or consultations to hospitals.

"For now, people should avoid visiting the hospital except for life threatening issues.

"We advise people to engage in e-health service instead of physical consultation to avoid contact as much as possible.

"This is because every patient is a potential COVID-19 case," he said.

The NMA chairman commended the federal and state governments for continued closure of schools, adding that safety should be paramount until the coast was clear.

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