Why The Number Of Cases Will Keep Rising In Nigeria
A viral social media joke about Burundi (not necessarily true) being the only African country not to record a case of Coronavirus infection was simply linked to the unavailability of testing kits. This is the only way the true state of the contagion could be ascertained in any country. The World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in press conferences has been emphasizing that instruction to countries since the outbreak by saying; ‘Test! test!! Test!!!’
Nigeria, the most populous black nation in the world has been proudly lagging in that area and nobody seems to be bothered about the untrue state of figures about infected people that it keeps making public.
Since the 18th of March, 2020, Nigeria has been witnessing a gradual increase in the number of Coronavirus cases. An additional number of 5 cases making up 8 in total prompted the Federal Government to issue travel restrictions against 13 countries on that fateful day following massive pressure from Nigerians on social media and also some representatives of the Nigeria Medical Association.
Despite the travel restrictions, the number of infected people has continued to increase but not at the rate of other countries of the world. Many have attributed this to some sort of luck, high temperatures limiting the virus spread or even answered prayers because Nigeria is a country not only populated with religious people but also very superstitious ones.
Presently, we have 111 confirmed cases (as at Monday evening – 30th of March) in Nigeria spreading across 10 states and the FCT, and one might decide to celebrate the low figure thinking an outbreak of the level of what the U.S, Spain, Italy, UK and others is far from Nigeria. The figure is very deceitful and in fact, most of the figures of the infected cases around the world are misleading due to the varying patterns of testing employed by different countries. In essence, the number of Coronavirus cases are largely under-reported and also played down by some countries due to political reasons.
As for Nigeria, the truth is that our testing capacity has been very low and poor with an initial number of 5 NCDC testing laboratories across the 36 states in the country. Testing has been monopolized by government hospitals leaving private hospitals and laboratories out of the equation.
The Nigerian government appears to be rationing testing kits by focusing on mostly returnees from Coronavirus-affected countries who display alarming symptoms of the dreaded ailment which has infected over 768,370 and leaving 36,912 others dead across the world. Close contacts of those that tested positive to the virus have also been given top priority.
Since this disease could be very elusive as it infects people who unknowingly become carriers and spreaders without falling sick, it spreads rapidly under the radar and in a matter of days, thousands of cases can be confirmed. It only takes one person to maintain contact with a group of people and the infection will begin to spread like the California wildfires.
There is also the belief that the disease has been spreading without the knowledge of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC. This isn’t far from the crude approach of the government which instructs suspected carriers to fill a contact form, self-isolate and keep in touch with the government about their health. Probably out of crass ignorance, carelessness or negligence, the travelers fill in wrong contact details to avoid any sort of disturbance from health officials.
Since Nigeria has issues with technology and keeping a database that could help track people with their mere names, phone numbers, fingerprints or pictures like China does, we start to look for such people in futility when its confirmed that an infected person travelled on that same flight with them.
Today, the Federal Government is struggling to trace over 6,000 largely uncooperative people who have had direct or indirect contact with index cases. A handful of that big figure could carry the virus, and spread it amongst the over 200 million people we have in the country. That is a huge disaster waiting to happen or probably has happened but yet to be fully unravelled.
As at Tuesday, the 24th of March, 2020, it was revealed that Nigeria had only tested 178 persons while South Korea was already bracing up for the dangers ahead by testing 10,000 people in a single day. It took the intervention of the Chinese billionaire, Jack Ma who donated testing kids and other Personal Protective Equipment before Nigeria scaled up its testing capacity up to 32% and since then, the numbers have been increasing.
The informed general public who have been concerned about the unusual snail-speed of the spread of the disease are finally getting a true picture of what lies ahead. The virus is coming for us and we can only pray that its hit in Nigeria will not be too devastating.
Lagos State – the commercial capital of Nigeria has cemented its position as the ‘Wuhan’ of Nigeria with 59 recorded cases leaving the FCT behind with just 14 cases. The Lagos State government appears to have access to some information about the virus which the general public might not. Its bracing up for a major disaster and it has been making frantic efforts to mitigate the crushing effects.
Local transmission which is the major strength of the pandemic hasn’t been pronounced in Nigeria but indications have it that its ongoing and its only a matter of time before we start counting infected cases in thousands like countries in Europe and America.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-olu’s body language tells it all but he keeps claiming his decisions are more of precautionary. He has urged residents to stay at home with civil servants ordered to work from home. He has partially closed market places as he restricts trading to people dealing in essential commodities.
Gatherings of over 20 people have been banned with religious organizations directly affected. He has also been hinting about the possible imposition of curfew if the need arises. Apart from this, some physical structures have also been put in place to combat the virus before it makes a full landfall in Lagos State. A health facility has been set up in Gbagada asides from the Infectious Disease Hospital at Yaba which reportedly boasts of 100 beds.
A massive makeshift isolation centre has also been set up at the Onikan stadium to house hundreds of Coronavirus patients. Funds have also been raised from private individuals, corporate organizations and state coffers. Donation of needed health kits, ventilators and others have been gathered from well-meaning Nigerians. Furthermore, the government has set up a food bank to feed over 200,000 households in the state for 14 days during the austerity period.
The Commissioner for Health in Lagos State, Professor Akin Abayomi who has been instrumental to postponing the doomsday isn’t mincing words. He doesn’t want to be politically correct. He simply wants Lagosians to get their body armours and arsenal ready for the war ahead with the unseen enemy.
He must have frightened Lagosians and Nigerians as a whole when he revealed his statistical projection that 39,000 people could be infected with the virus in Lagos. According to him, the figure might be beaten down to 13,000 if Lagosians adhere to the globally recommended practice of social distancing. Which ever way the pendulum swings, this spells doom for not only the state but Nigeria as a whole.
The professor is not alone, he is only doing his job with a touch of professionalism. The United Kingdom predicts the death of 20,000 people in the worst case scenario and the Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo is projecting the need for 30,000 ventilators in a similar scenario thereby drawing criticisms from an already overwhelmed President Donald Trump.
I know there is a need to be hopeful but we need to prepare for bad times. There is a way the virus operates. It initially spreads slowly like its doing in Nigeria presently, then balloons into several thousands, claims alot of lives of mostly the elderly including those with pre-existing medical conditions, and then peaks. China went through this process and I believe Nigeria might not be different. The Health Commissioner knows this and he isn’t ready to downplay the capability of the virus like Trump dangerously did.
With a bigger testing capacity and widespread testing of patients, the actual number of cases might hit 500-1000 for now and if its not well managed, we might be going the way of Spain, Italy, or Iran.