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COVID-19: Nigeria may escape predicted catastrophes, says WHO

By Chukwuma Muanya (Lagos) and Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze (Abuja)
21 October 2021   |   4:05 am
Though COVID-19 has continued to be transmitted across countries with resultant waves of large-scale outbreaks continuing, Nigeria and many countries in the African Region appear to have escaped the worst predicted catastrophes so far...

Incoming Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Adetifa Ifedayo (left) and outgoing DG, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, with stakeholders launching a coffee book of NCDC’s Transformation Journey

•Ifedayo resumes as new NCDC Director General, promises to build on gains made by agency
•Assures on effective utilisation of scientific-evidence to prevent, detect, respond to public health emergencies

Though COVID-19 has continued to be transmitted across countries with resultant waves of large-scale outbreaks continuing, Nigeria and many countries in the African Region appear to have escaped the worst predicted catastrophes so far, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative for Nigeria, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo.

Meanwhile, the WHO and other partners have commended NCDC’s notable achievements in strengthening disease surveillance, lab capacity and government’s multi-sectoral coordination under the leadership of the outgoing Director General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu.

Speaking at the NCDCs 5Year Transformational Journey yesterday in Abuja, Mulombo noted that the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) played a critical role of quickly marshalling a fully working government response that has so far been able to effectively institute and enforce required outbreak containment measures thereby thwarting a possible catastrophe.

Mulombo pointed out that the exemplary leadership demonstrated by Ihekweazu led to the outstanding performance witnessed in the Nigerian response to COVID-19 pandemic which has been recognised not only in Africa but globally and is one of the critical factors for Ihekweazu’s appointment into the WHO.

He stated that achieving national and global health security has increasingly become complex as peoples of the world get more interconnected and interdependent with people, goods and services increasingly moving easily and quickly across regions and countries.

He said, “Despite years of implementation of the landmark 2005 International Health Regulations, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that countries remain poorly prepared to prevent or quickly contain such pandemics. I wish to congratulate the NCDC for a successful first five years in invigorating all levels of government to effectively prevent, timely detect and control many health security threats that have occurred”.

“I sincerely thank the outgoing DG for the good working relationship WHO enjoyed with the NCDC under his leadership. I once again wish to pass on our congratulations to Ihekweazu for his appointment as the Assistant Director General, to lead the Berlin-based WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence. I also wish to welcome the incoming DG and look forward to your building on NCDC’s five-year legacy that-we are commemorating today. Government preparedness, response mechanisms and core capacities strengthened so far for COVID-19 and other outbreaks need to be sustained; efforts to have critical health security interventions mainstreamed into the health delivery system need to be accelerated and; efforts to have increased domestic funding investment in health security need to be further strengthened at national and particularly at subnational level.”

According to Mulombo, “The partnership between the UN Development System in Nigeria and the NCDC has shown that working together, there is almost nothing insurmountable.

Mulombo assured that the WHO would continue to partner with the NCDC to support the country in further advancing the national health security agenda as well as contributing to the advancement of the global health security agenda to keep both Nigeria and the world safe.

Meanwhile, Dr. Adetifa Ifedayo, on Monday resumed as the new Director General of the NCDC with promise to build on gains made by the agency under the leadership of his predecessor, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu.

Ihekweazu, NCDC’s first Director General, at the official handover ceremony on October 18, 2021, in Abuja, said: “During this time of transformation, there is no better person to lead our young agency. Dr. Adetifa is a proven leader with strong epidemiology, academic and research background as well as the ability to bring people together. His vision for effective utilisation of scientific-evidence to prevent, detect and respond to public health emergencies is exactly what NCDC needs to build on the gains achieved so far.”

The incoming DG, Adetifa is a clinical epidemiologist with a strong public health and research background. Prior to his appointment, he was an Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), United Kingdom. Adetifa received his undergraduate medical training at the University of Ilorin and completed his residency training in paediatrics at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba. He holds an MSc in Epidemiology from LSHTM and a Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of Amsterdam.

While accepting the baton of leadership from Ihekweazu, Adetifa spoke on his plans for the future with NCDC: “I must congratulate Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu and the NCDC Team for the incredible work they have done so far, for Chikwe’s exemplary leadership, and for the smooth transition process. For several years now, I have closely followed the activities of the agency without any inkling that I would ever be the one to lead it. My focus in the next few weeks is to work with colleagues and partners to understand their work better so we can collectively build on the gains made so far, in line with the NCDC mandate.”

President Muhammadu Buhari, on September 6, 2021, approved the appointment of Ifedayo as the new Director General of NCDC. This was following the appointment of Ihekweazu, as Assistant Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to head its new pandemic intelligence hub in Berlin from November 1, 2021.

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