COVID-19 Alert

It is about time we rethink our public health decisions, and attend to these with the urgency they deserve. This fact can never overemphasised, as it actually needs to be reiterated to become a second national anthem. And for a starter, there is the salient need to all take the vaccines available to us, and particularly the COVID one, so that we do not slide backwards to become worse than our year 2020 level.

As the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic surges through Africa, Nigeria is among a list of developing countries facing shortfalls in the COVID vaccine supply. However, health officials are implying that we are not in a bad place yet; but should we wait for when we are in a bad place before responding to the situtaion with the urgency it deserves?

Following India’s decision to control the exportation of COVID vaccines by prioritising its domestic needs, experts say that such restrictions have been a huge factor in the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) delivering fewer than 50 million vaccines worldwide — just a quarter of what it planned to distribute by the end of May.

Nigeria was due to receive a consignment of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in April but could not, as India faced an exponential increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

With hospitals running out of oxygen and health workers having to watch patients die and are unable to help them, India is prioritising vaccinating more of its population and has taken a big decision to not export vaccines until the end of the year.

The world’s largest vaccine maker, Serum Institute of India (SII) produces the bulk of  vaccines that COVAX distributes to nations of the world, and with this development in India, global vaccination will suffer a major setback.

Mr Faisal Shuaibu, Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), said this has led to the delay in Nigeria’s access to vaccines. He, however, said the country is expecting deliveries between late July and August. 

Some public health experts believe that a delay in supplies of vaccines will impact the health system in a not so positive way, as we saw in the early days of the pandemic. As some of them put it, “Nigeria needs to look inwards and see how we can start producing our vaccines if the importations are not working.”

Also, “(o)ur fate is in our hands and we have to work together – both citizens and those in leadership positions; we should all understand that it is our collective responsibility and as such we should adhere to all regulations.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s African Regional Office, COVID-19 cases have risen for weeks since the onset of the third wave on May 3. As of July 25 — day 83 into the new wave — Africa had recorded close to 600,000 new cases, and at the current rate of infections, even as there was a slight decrease in earlier trends, the ongoing surge gives huge cause for worry, as 17 countries (37 per cent) have witnessed spikes in the weekly cases in the past seven days.

“A combination of factors including weak observance of public health measures, increased social interaction and movement as well as the spread of variants are powering the new surge,” the health agency said.

Ms Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Regional Director for Africa fears that this might be the continent’s worst wave of COVID-19 yet, however she believes, “Africa can still blunt the impact of these fast-rising infections, but the window of opportunity is closing. Everyone everywhere can do their bit by taking precautions to prevent transmission.”

While emphasis has returned on the non-pharmaceutical protocols required to protect us and society from COVID-19, including the wearing of masks, washing of hands, avoidance of crowded places and parties, etc., ironically we are now carrying on as if COVID-19 was a fairy tale or some bad dream that we have all woken up from.

In view of the data gathered by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), only 1.30 per cent of Africa’s population has been fully vaccinated presently. For Nigeria, only 0.96 per cent of its total population has been fully vaccinated.

Experts say that countries of the world will need to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of their populations to attain herd immunity.

I wrote about three viruses last year in the wake of the pandemic, hoping that while year 2020 turned out as the worst ever, the incoming year 2021 would be nothing like the past one.

As we strode into 2021, most of us would have seen the joker poster that read ‘2020 won (2021)’; and I think that joke is starting to become our reality.

Just when we thought we were beginning to heal from the effects and what many refer to as the ill wind of ‘Coro’, then kidnapping for ransom became the order of the day, and no week goes by without reports of people who have been kidnapped. This almost makes one wonder at this point: Which takes precedence – the coronavirus as a public health menace or national insecurity?

In Nigeria, for many citizens, COVID-19 does not exist or at best, it is a disease of the rich, the well-to-do or people who can afford three square meals. In as much as this uninformed consideration of a ravaging disease is laughable, it is yet our reality.

While emphasis has returned on the non-pharmaceutical protocols required to protect us and society from COVID-19, including the wearing of masks, washing of hands, avoidance of crowded places and parties, etc., ironically we are now carrying on as if COVID-19 was a fairy tale or some bad dream that we have all woken up from.

In 2020, we were all so scared of being wiped out by the virus that we (at least a handful of believers) readily adhered to everything put in place to protect the population, such as the lockdowns; the physical distancing; the mask mandate, etc. across the country and the Federal Capital Territory (FTC). Thankfully, the scientific community worked hard and gave the world vaccines to save the day. Even then, although the vaccine is here, yet major swathes of our population have been complacent about the uptake of this prophylactic remedy.

Vaccine complacency suggests a feeling of false security or a lack of awareness or urgency of potential danger, as such the recourse to pharmaceutical prophylaxis to mitigate the risk of diseases to the individual/family/community is low. For example, someone may not believe that s/he is at the risk of contracting a certain disease, and hence might not take the need for a preventive vaccination against such ailment seriously. Or s/he might consider other issues to be more important.

In terms of COVID-19, a more virulent variant (the most virulent so far, we are told) is now in town, and shall we wait for when it begins to spread like wildfire before we do the needful – by taking the protocols of safety more seriously and aggressively seeking vaccination?

These are really interesting times, as we do not have only COVID-19 to deal with, Cholera is also rising to a notorious reckoning and almost competiting with the coronavirus in its grim onslaught. As such, are we ready for an epidemic in the middle of a pandemic? 

This Delta variant of the coronavirus is most likely exchanging hand shakes across the Niger, and I will not be surprised if the next popular conspiracy theory suggests that this can only be contracted by the people of Delta State or inhabitants of the Niger Delta region, as we are wont to distort things in these parts. 

I have heard a group of persons, a colleague at work inclusive, asking why they should take the vaccine if the vaccine does not protect one from contracting the virus. 

It is true that the vaccine does not prevent or protect you from contracting the virus, but it does you a great favour by protecting you from becoming very sick or landing in an isolation centre or emergency unit. Actually, many of those who rail against vaccines have never visited an Isolation Centre, to witness the dark spectacle of human sickness and feel the near breath of death, otherwise they would be the most fervent of crusaders for COVID vaccines. 

These are really interesting times, as we do not have only COVID-19 to deal with, Cholera is also rising to a notorious reckoning and almost competiting with the coronavirus in its grim onslaught. As such, are we ready for an epidemic in the middle of a pandemic? 

And of course, there is the latest discovery of Monkeypox (which one had even thought was already history) in Dallas, Texas, which was recently imported there from Nigeria!

It is about time we rethink our public health decisions, and attend to these with the urgency they deserve. This fact can never overemphasised, as it actually needs to be reiterated to become a second national anthem. And for a starter, there is the salient need to all take the vaccines available to us, and particularly the COVID one, so that we do not slide backwards to become worse than our year 2020 level.

Then our health system suffered a major battering and many lost their lives to a now preventable disease, which is the risk we are susceptible to if we do not act quickly.

We are already experiencing food scarcity, leading to a ridiculous hike in food prices; if we allow COVID to take a huge toll, we would very easily walk into a full blown famine with our eyes wide open.

In the past year, we have seen and learnt what works and what could work in terms of mitigating the spread of COVID infections, and those of other highly transmissible diseases; now is the time to put these lessons to good use.

It is not enough to declare a few states as transmission hot spots, it is now about ensuring that the entire country does not become one raging furnace.

Chiamaka Okafor is with the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), Abuja.

Source

Click for More News



Tell us your view below: