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Using telemedicine to combat spread of coronavirus outbreak in Nigeria

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With the current worldwide outbreak of Coronavirus (designated 2019-nCoV.), Telemedicine knowledge and awareness can assist those at the helm of affairs of making decisions in Nigeria to combat the spread of the disease that has the tendency to affect her 200 million inhabitants.

Telemedicine which can sometimes be referred to as Telehealth allows healthcare professionals to assess, diagnose, plan, implement and evaluate patients centered care and treatment in rural and remote locations, using telecommunications technology. Telemedicine allows patients in remote locations to access medical expertise quickly, and efficiently without the need to travel. Thereby reducing the chances of further spread of infection.

Telemedicine can be instrumental in containing and treating diseases during emergencies like the current crisis of Coronavirus that most parts of the world (if not all) are experiencing. While Telemedicine cannot take the place of scientific testing achieved by patients going onsite to meet medical professionals, it can help healthcare providers make special arrangements to safely attend to a patient who is suspected to have the virus. Telemedicine would also offer a way for patients to receive the urgent care needed without having to go to the healthcare provider’s office and risk coming into contact with someone who is sick.

While it is uncertain how pathogenic 2019-nCov will affect Nigeria, it is better to act assertively now, rather than wait to see how the outbreak will unfold, throughout the different states of Nigeria. Now is a good time for the Federal, State, and Local government functionaries in all areas to start or intensify efforts in awareness, preparedness, prevention, and to ensure that quarantining people will contain any outbreaks at their sources. High level of intervention is required urgently. Reacting after a lot of people are infected costs lives, economic resources, and the well being of millions of people, especially those who reside in densely populated regions.

Advice and Suggestions:
Short Term:
1) Proactive involvements through funding by the Federal, State, and Local governments in awareness creation through Telemedicine by healthcare professionals. For more information, visit our website www.Elvoteconsulting.com.
2) Training of Physicians and healthcare workers in the use of Telemedicine technology.
3) Creating awareness training by healthcare professionals to all governmental branches, especially the Nigeria Police Force, Nigerian Army, Airforce, Navy, and other government agencies responsible for maintaining security and healthcare of Nigerian inhabitants.
4) Equipping Physicians and healthcare workers with appropriate telecommunication equipment that will facilitate the effectiveness of diagnosis and transmission of vital information.

Long Term
5) Setting up a Nigerian Emergency Telemedicine Consultation System (NETCS), in Abuja with branches in all the 36 States in Nigeria. This will be a telemedicine-enabled outbreak alert and response network. NETCS will be built upon Doctors, or trained healthcare providers approach, in which health services can be accessed remotely through terminals across hospitals. The system architecture of NETCS will comprise of three major architectural layers: (1) telemedicine service platform layer, (2) telemedicine cloud layer, and (3) telemedicine service application layer This essence of all the three layers is to provides clinicians and patients with immediate diagnosis and consultations regarding COVID-19, wireless remote patient monitoring, remote multiple disciplinary care, and telehealth for education and training, utilizing interactive live video conferencing.

As Nigeria looks to the future of epidemic prevention and control, it is believed that NETCS will have the potential to play a role in addressing emergencies and large-scale outbreaks in high uncertainty settings, not only with Coronavirus, but diseases like Lassa fever virus (which is currently a threat in Nigeria) and others that may occur later. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and its impact on Nigeria inhabitants needs to be taken seriously by all individuals, stakeholders, especially the federal government parastatals, agencies, private sectors, healthcare professionals, governmental agencies, and everyone. As the adage says” A stick in time saves nine.”

*Dr. Obikunle is a United States-certified Telehealth Clinical Presenter (CTCP) and Doctor of Business Administration – Healthcare Management (Telemedicine), also in the United States.


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