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The Omicron challenge for Nigeria

By Editorial Board
08 December 2021   |   3:13 am
As if the COVID-19 pandemic has not done enough damage to humanity, the discovery of the Omicron variant has thrown more challenges in the way for humanity.

As if the COVID-19 pandemic has not done enough damage to humanity, the discovery of the Omicron variant has thrown more challenges in the way for humanity.

For Nigeria, battling with myriads of other challenges owing to the failure of leadership is a sad development indeed. However, a sound appraisal of the situation and a pragmatic approach to confronting it will see the country coming out stronger.

Nigeria joined the growing number of countries that have recorded cases of the Omicron variant also known as B.1.1.529 lineage, confirming the discovery of three additional Omicron variant cases. The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Ifedayo Adetifa who disclosed this noted that the new cases were detected in persons with recent travel history to South Africa in November. Adetifa also said that through the NCDC, the Nigerian government has been notified by the government of the United Kingdom (UK) of seven cases of Omicron variant detected in travellers from Nigeria.

Although the NCDC boss established that the Delta variant remains the dominant variant so far, he said the centre will continue to coordinate genomic surveillance activities across the country to sequence all positive COVID-19 samples from international travelers arriving in Nigeria, including samples from international travelers from October 2021 to date.

The controversy as to its origin and course of spread aside, the stark reality is that the Omicron variant is here and people are testing positive for it. Travel bans have been imposed on countries especially African countries including Nigeria, by leading western countries. The latest and by far of more concern to Nigeria is the one imposed on travellers from Nigeria by the United Kingdom in particular, given the ties between the two nations; and Canada. More cases are also being discovered in Nigeria and amongst Nigerian travellers.

But there is no need to panic, because, as the NCDC boss said: “All viruses naturally mutate over time and will continue to happen as long as the world does not act in concert to significantly reduce transmission through vaccination and adherence to effective public health measures such as mask use, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and ensuring good ventilation.”

Coming at a time Nigeria was becoming relaxed in a seeming feeling that the worst was over, it is a wake-up call to overhaul the medical and health infrastructure in the most populous black nation in the world.

With a population of over 2000 million and still burgeoning, the country’s leaders need to wake up or be woken up to tackle the age long neglect of the health sector. The leaders have access to first class health facilities worldwide based on their unfair access to public funds and hence probably feel no pressure to replicate same at home. But that is shortsightedness as the onset of COVID-19 and the attendant restriction of movement has demonstrated. So, the first implication of the myriads of travel restrictions ought to be seen by the leaders as a denial of their access to the facilities they so much depend on. It is therefore in their enlightened self-interest to do a rethink and fix this nation and its health and infrastructural facilities.

Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the political leadership has paid lip service to the development of the local pharmaceutical potentials in spite of research evidence to their efficacy in certain areas. Agencies are set up and billons of naira funneled through them and yet no meaningful outcomes or significant breakthroughs achieved. Yet, the origin of COVID-19 remains shrouded in mystery even as countries such as the U.S. and China traded blames amid argument trade is out there as to whether hegemonic western pharmaceutical companies are behind the spread and mutations of the COVID-19 pandemic for their gains. While the speculations will probably never be proven, what is not doubted is the prevalence of a killer virus that spreads and kills fast in a human population that is otherwise unprotected. A brilliant reaction to that hegemony is therefore to get into the game by developing own industry through the provision of an enabling environment for entrepreneurs to thrive.

It is shameful that government public health institutions, including the one in the Aso Villa residence of the president, have been groaning from neglect. Teaching hospitals, once the cynosure in the developing world, have become shadows of their former selves. Salaries and emoluments of health workers are denied them, causing regular frictions and industrial (strike) actions. Primary health centres have been abandoned nationwide. Cataloguing the woes of the health sector is a heart-rending exercise.

The cumulative lesson from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic till now is the need to fix the system through honest leadership at all levels and to evoke the political will to do same. With the infrastructure in shambles, it is a miracle that the death toll from the pandemic is far below the projections. Nigeria cannot stretch its luck further through negligence.

It would seem the pandemic and its variants will live with the world a long time than expected. So, the threat of lockdowns, travel restrictions and associated inconveniences will continue. How Nigeria prepares to confront the effects will make a difference in the survival and wellbeing of the nation.

While reminding those in positions of authority that the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the people, ordinary Nigerians must also take heed and protect themselves. The populace should follow the protocols for the prevention of COVID-19 at all times. Many of these preventive measures are non-pharmaceutical and require simple adherence to good hygiene. Self-medication is not encouraged, but non-controversial and fairly accepted practices like steaming should be embraced at intervals.

While waiting for governments to wake up to their duties, the people must also take steps to stay alive, stay safe and stay healthy.