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Assurances, People and Plans: Nigeria Braces for Novel Corona Virus Impact

By Nsisong Asanga
on February 11, 2020

Since December 2019, the novel Corona virus (2019-nCoV) has grown from a small outbreak in Wuhan, China to a global concern warranting the declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Not to mention global anxiety and ripple-effects. Currently (11 Feb), WHO reports more than 42,000  infections with over 1000 deaths   in twenty-five countries.  Africa is yet to record any case, but extensive travel and trade links between the continent and China imply that the risk is ever-present. As you know, it was also one of the main reasons for WHO to declare a PHEIC on 30 Jan.

In Nigeria, pretty much like elsewhere in the world, there has been concern about 2019-nCoV  and the country’s preparedness. The Nigerian government has reassured the public  but many people are unconvinced. The Nigerian minister of health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, has said that Nigeria is prepared for the novel corona virus. Reactions to this statement have been mixed. While some people agree that the country is prepared citing the excellent performance witnessed during the Ebola outbreak of 2014, others are less confident given the current challenges the nation is grappling with: a large multi-regional Lassa Fever outbreak,  endemic Malaria and HIV, among others.

The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has  released three public health advisory  statements concerning 2019-nCoV and the measures being taken to protect the public. A multi-sectoral Corona Virus Preparedness Group has been constituted with representatives from WHO, Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH), Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), US Centres for Disease Control (US-CDC), Public Health England (PHE), Pro-Health International (PHI), NCDC and others. In addition, the twenty-two existing Public Health Emergency Operation Centres have been placed on alert. A toll free line has also been provided for enquiries. Earlier this month, Nigeria acquired in-country Corona virus testing capabilities, with the help of WHO. A travel advisory against non-essential travel to China has been issued and issuance of new visas to China has been suspended. The NCDC also called for self-quarantine of any person with a history of  travel to China for two weeks. This recommendation has been criticised;  presently, its impact is unclear. 

At state-level, preparation is irregular. In some states, such as Lagos State, there have been sensitisation seminars and  personal protective equipment audits; other states are yet to respond. Nationwide, health professionals have signed up for online courses about the outbreak such as the WHO open course on 2019-nCoV.

While preparedness might be imperfect, there is a dedicated group, a plan and a high level of alertness. Time will reveal how effective or important they were, but for now,  they are all that stand  between a corona virus epidemic and 200 million people.

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