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Senate committee chairmen urge strong preparedness, response to epidemic outbreaks

By Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze and Matthew Ogune, Abuja
06 February 2020   |   3:38 am
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Primary Health Care and Communicable Diseases, Chukwuka Utazi, has stressed the need for government to put in place strong emergency preparedness

Upper Chamber plans review of National Health Act
• Govs, commissioners to meet in Abuja over health issues
• Minister inspects coronavirus isolation centre under construction in Abuja

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Primary Health Care and Communicable Diseases, Chukwuka Utazi, has stressed the need for government to put in place strong emergency preparedness and response to epidemics to ensure that the country is not caught unawares by any outbreak.

Utazi, who described Nigeria’s epidemics preparedness as zero, said the country only wait for epidemics to occur before responding, adding that we need to double our efforts to effectively respond to epidemics.

He stated this yesterday at a programme organised by the Nigeria Health Watch in Abuja.

The lawmaker said: “We only wait for epidemics to come before we start working. When the Ebola came, it caught us unawares and now the coronavirus is spreading and not much is done.

“The response mechanism should be instituted so that we don’t wait until there is an epidemic and we start running helter-skelter. Our response to epidemic is zero. We need to cultivate as a culture proper sanitation and hygiene. We should prepare for war during the peace-time and not when there is war. If you prepare yourself, it means you already have a system in place.

He said that the Senate is considering the review of the Nigerian Health Act and would ensure increased funding for NCDC for emergency preparedness and response.

Also, Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Dr. Ibrahim Yahaya Oloriegbe, said that our response to epidemics should not only be through medical but requires adopting a multi-sectoral approach to tackle the problems.

He stressed the need to strengthen the primary healthcare system and to involve the private sector in the emergency response plan.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) has invited state commissioners for health for a two-day meeting in Abuja to enlighten them on health priorities of the forum.

The NGF Head of Media, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, said yesterday that the aim of the meeting, scheduled to hold on February 6 and 7 in Abuja, was also to onboard all commissioners of health on the Seattle Declaration and strategise on its operationalisation.

According to Bello-Barkindo, the meeting will also serve as a platform for networking, collaboration and experience sharing among the commissioners, especially as it relates with translation of national health policies at the sub-national level.

In a related vein, Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, has inspected the isolation centre for the Coronavirus under construction at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital (UATH), Gwagwalada, in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The centre is being built as part of the precautionary measures taken by the Federal Government against the importation of Coronavirus into Nigeria, and the response to be adopted in case the disease is imported.

In a brief meeting with the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the hospital, Prof. Bissallah A. Ekele, before the inspection, the minister said that with the outbreak of the disease and its scare, Nigeria must not allow it to enter the country through any of the entry points but if any passenger should test positive at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Abuja, the person will need to be isolated, thus, the need to have an isolation centre at UATH”

The minister, therefore, solicited the support of UATH to enable the health sector tackle the disease in case of its importation.