A voice from the trenches of the war against COVID-19 in Nigeria has joined the difficult task of convincing Nigerians against indulging in public gatherings. The coalition of over 100 non-governmental actors working to improve health care and development across in Nigeria – the Health Sector Reform Coalition – is strongly advising governors against the temptation of lifting the ban on public gatherings, especially for Friday prayers for Muslims and Easter services for Christians.
To do so, said Dcn. Mike Egboh and Dr. Chizoba Wonodi, Co-Chairs of the coalition’s COVID-19 Response Task Team who signed a two-page statement addressed to governors in Nigeria Friday, will be catastrophic, given the high number of people living in poverty, high prevalence of chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes (underlying diseases) and very weak health systems, it said.
The coalition is thus imploring the governors to cancel all plans or reverse the directives to lift the ban on religious and other gatherings until the NCDC and Federal Ministry of Health advises otherwise, no matter the pressure. It is also alerting the governors to the temptations of populism, saying this is not the time for populism, challenging them to, as the custodian of power in the state, “make the right decision that will protect the citizens”
HSRC is not just asserting the imperative for sustaining the lockdown, it is also calling on the Federal and state governments to increase the delivery of economic mitigation packages to households and individuals that are in need so as to reduce the pressure on people to go out for reasons of daily survival.
Coming from people connected with health care and development delivery, this is an important intervention in a country where the COVID 19 pandemic has not stopped large as well as small groups gathering even in sites of the most extreme lockdown such as Abuja where worshippers are doing their thing one way or the other.
But, drawing attention to data from the WHO and Johns Hopkins University (whose medical school is a global referent in the matter), the coalition says 1.6 million people have tested positive and more than 95 thousand have died from COVID-19 between December 2019 to April 9, 2020. It does not see any magic in the corner against avoiding the high number of deaths that that have been seen in countries such as the US, Italy, Spain, UK, amongst others other than avoiding crowd, observing physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene.
Expressing its recognition of the importance of worship and religious celebrations to Nigerians and also acknowledging the socio-economic difficulties of coping with lockdown, the coalition, however, argues that the lockdown in the FCT, Lagos and similar decision by some governors across the country had been a welcome development.
Without hiding its shock, concern and fear all at once in the two-page statement, the coalition explains how, “unfortunately, options are limited for now in the best ways to fight the spread”, adding that while majority of infections and deaths have been in developed countries, both infections and deaths are also rising in Africa of which Nigeria is not an exception.
It also argues that trends from other countries shows that, without drastic measures such as maintaining lockdowns and distancing, the numbers could easily rise exponentially over a short time. “Between February 27 and March 27, the US went from 54 to 100,522 cases while Italy went from 593 to 66,414 in one month’, the statement pointed out, insisting that this is thus not the time to relax the guard, especially that the testing system in Nigeria is grossly inadequate, thereby making the true numbers of cases in Nigeria to be elusive yet. It further adds that community spread might be happening as up to 85% of the infected may be asymptomatic yet while actively spreading the virus to others.
HSRC is asking all Nigerians to note that ‘Nothing is more important than staying alive’ now.