Is Nigeria Ready for a Health Epidemic?

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Thursday, February 20,  2020 / 6:23 PM / By FDC / Header Image Credit: American Chemical Society


The recent global health scares - coronavirus (Covid-19) in Asia and Lassa fever in Nigeria - give a sense of deja vu, reminding us of the days of Ebola, SARS and other health scares in the past. The more Nigeria is integrated with the global markets, the higher the risk of these viruses penetrating the economy. In fact, the first case of Lassa fever outbreak was confirmed in Lagos state this month.


The last time Nigeria had a health scare of this magnitude was back in 2014 when a Liberian citizen flew into Nigeria with the Ebola virus.


Fortunately, late Dr Stella Adadevoh isolated the patient and successfully prevented the scare from becoming a crisis. Six years later, Nigerians face the risk of two major health scares - covid-19 and Lassa fever- developing into a crisis if not properly managed. Key stakeholders - the first responders at the airports, the public, the federal and state governments as well as the medical professionals at the hospitals - must be properly equipped and ready to handle the crisis.


Is Nigeria ready? 

Since the outbreak of the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) has listed Nigeria and 12 other African countries as 'high risk' due to their close ties to China. With the high volume of travel by Nigerians to China and the increasing number of Chinese businesses located in the country, Nigeria must be particularly vigilant for the virus. With the first case of the virus in Africa confirmed in Egypt, Nigeria can assess its preparedness in dealing with the novel Coronavirus using the parameters below:

  • Active surveillance: The 2014 Ebola scare in Nigeria occurred primarily because a foreigner carrying the virus was erroneously allowed into Nigeria. Therefore, the first point of action in protecting Nigerians from health risks is to upgrade the health screenings and quarantine procedures in our local and international airports. With regards to the coronavirus, passengers from China and other Asian countries are naturally the biggest threats to their destination countries. For Nigeria, the Federal Government has assured Nigerians of the country's effort to strengthen surveillance at five international airports - Enugu, Lagos, Rivers, Kano and the FCT. To strengthen its surveillance tactics Nigeria can adopt techniques being adopted by global airports in dealing with the inbound threat of the coronavirus. Take for instance, the Hong Kong International Airport: planes flying from Wuhan are parked at a special designated area where passengers are cleaned and disinfected. Airports in India have also installed thermal cameras and signage informing the public of steps to take if they feel ill.

  • Early detection: Six years ago, there were only a handful of Ebola diagnosis centers in Nigeria. The ability of any country to manage a health crisis depends on the quality of its health care and medical professionals. The accelerated rate of the medical brain drain in Nigeria, suboptimal health infrastructure and lack of research facilities could threaten a timely detection of these health scares in Nigeria.

  • Isolation: Once diagnosed, patients suspected to carry life-threatening diseases must be properly isolated. China has also successfully built a 1,000-bed hospital in ten days in response to the accelerated spread of the Coronavirus. On the domestic front, Kwara state government has committed to set up an isolation centre for Lassa fever patients in the state. This example must particularly be replicated in the 'Golden Triangle' states - Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt owing to the high influx of passengers into these states. State governments must adopt proactive responses if Nigeria is to avert these crises.


A call to revive Nigeria's health sector 

Before the health threats, there was a persistent call for the federal government to increase its budgetary allocation to the health sector, which is currently at a miserly 4.4%.The low allocation to the sector has resulted in a dilapidation of hospital infrastructure across the Federation, demoralized health workers and increased rate of brain drain. The system is plagued with incessant industrial actions, low doctor to patient ratio, brain drain and poor health infrastructure.


Addressing these challenges will involve increased government allocation and public-private partnerships that could bridge the infrastructure and manpower deficit. An increase in the budgetary allocation of the health sector will allow the government to respond quickly to any threat as well as have a ripple effect on improving the health infrastructure, attracting both domestic and foreign investment as well as slowing the pace of medical brain drain in Nigeria.


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