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Yuletide amid COVID-19, Yellow fever outbreak: Task before Nigeria’s disease control agencies

By Onyedika Agbedo, Ijeoma Thomas-Odia, Maria Diamond, Ogechi Eze, Onyinye Ezeilo, Joshua Akade (Lagos), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Gordi Udeajah (Umuahia), Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi (Jos), Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt), Agosi Todo (Calabar), Rauf Oyewole (Bauchi), From Joseph Wantu (Makurdi)
28 November 2020   |   4:21 am
Barely four weeks to this year’s Christmas, Nigerians are increasingly becoming apprehensive over the outbreak of Yellow fever in some states of the country and a possible second wave of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Barely four weeks to this year’s Christmas, Nigerians are increasingly becoming apprehensive over the outbreak of Yellow fever in some states of the country and a possible second wave of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Already, five states in the country are battling to contain the spread of Yellow fever. These include Enugu, Delta, Benue, Bauchi and Ebonyi states. In the first two weeks of November, Bauchi, Delta and Enugu states alone reportedly recorded 222 suspected cases with 76 confirmed deaths.

Also as at 2.00pm last Friday, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control’s (NCDC) daily COVID-19 situation report showed that on November 26, 2020, Nigeria recorded 169 new confirmed cases of the virus, which brought the total number of cases in the country to 66,974 out of which 62,493 cases have been discharged and 1,169 deaths recorded. The report is underscores the fact that the virus is still very much around in the country and should still be tackled with utmost consciousness.

Overseas, the U.S. has been recording resurgence in COVID-19 cases after weeks of slow down in outbreaks that enabled it to reopen its economy and hold its recently concluded presidential election. The situation is also the same in Europe, forcing countries like England, Portugal and Hungary to order a second lockdown.

With these two deadly diseases staring Nigerians in the face as yuletide beckons, there is no gainsaying the fact that the country’s disease control agencies have a huge task in their hands to contain the spread given the pomp that is usually associated with the period. To compound the situation, The Guardian’s observations showed that the majority of Nigerians no longer comply with COVID-19 safety protocols such as wearing of face mask, regular washing of hands with running water/use of hand sanitiser and observance of physical distancing in public gatherings. Further findings also showed that security agencies are no longer enforcing the rules.

For instance, in Lagos State, there has been outright disregard for the protocols lately, prompting some residents to call for strict enforcement by the concerned authorities as Christmas and new year festivities approach.

Many residents, however, told The Guardian that while there was need for the concerned government agencies to develop workable strategies on how the country could celebrate the season without adverse consequences, the citizens have a role to play to ensure the success of such action plans.

To a resident in Mushin area of the state, Ayoola Femi, the government should make COVID-19 test compulsory for all travellers.

“The best safety measure the government can put in place is to make available free COVID-19 test in all medical centres across the country,” he said.

But another resident, Emmanuel Opara, noted that no protocol or measure put in place by the government would be enough to curtail the spread of the pandemic this festive season without the citizens’ buy in.

“Nigerians do not believe there is COVID-19. How do you work against a virus that the people do not believe exists?

“The issue at hand isn’t about the government making available protocols to restrain the virus; it is about the people. Only few people believe the virus exists while the rest view this pandemic as a scam or a means for government to embezzle funds,” he said.

A consultant Obstetrician/Gynaecologist at Benin Medical Care, Benin City, Oseyomon Okaiwele, urged Nigerians to take precautions as they celebrate the yuletide to reduce the challenges posed by these infectious conditions.

He said: “The precautions for reducing the spread of COVID-19 have been popularised by the government and other health authorities in recent times. These include regular hand washing with soap and water or the use of hand sanitisers containing alcohol, wearing of face masks, social distancing and avoiding unnecessary gatherings or overcrowding. It is also important to have a system of contact tracing to identify possible cases and then testing and isolation of confirmed cases.

“Suspected cases or those who have come in contact with confirmed cases should be quarantined. These measures would help to slow down the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the financial and manpower burden on health facilities.”

On Yellow fever, Okaiwele said: “Several state governments have provided means by which there could be mass vaccination in areas where this condition has been reported. There is also a need for early presentation of suspected cases to the nearest approved health facility so that these cases could be properly managed and contact tracing could be done. Keeping in mind the usual religious and cultural celebrations that occur toward the end of every year, it is important to re-emphasise the need to pay proper attention to one’s health and avoid spreading communicable diseases.”

There were similar concerns in other states of the federation but officials of the ministries of health said the state governments were already addressing the situation.

This is as the Chief Executive Officer of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, told The Guardian in an exclusive interview that “the responsibility to protect ourselves and our country lies with us all and not just the government.” Read the details below:

Our Proactive Measures Are Still In Place, Says Abia Govt.
IN Abia State, there is no report of Yellow fever outbreak yet. But the state government is very conscious of the fact that COVID-19 has not exited the country and as such has not relaxed the rules put in place to prevent the spread of the disease.

According to the Permanent Secretary in the state Ministry of Health, Mr. Eze Egbulefu, the state has been conscious of a possible second wave of COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We have taken precautionary measures and never relaxed the proactive measures put in place. Our worry is that the people are no more complying with the preventive measures as they were doing in its wake before the present seeming reduced infection rate. 

“Some of the sustained measures are locating active testing centres in all the local councils and the state’s NYSC camp. There are functional isolation centres and two molecular laboratories at Aba and Umuahia, the state capital. The state has also re-energised its campaigns to educate the populace that the pandemic is still alive hence they ought to do the needful to save themselves from getting infected by adhering to all prescribed preventive measures,” he said.

[FILES] CEO of NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu

The Guardian, however, observed that many residents no longer wear facemasks, maintain social distancing or shake one another with their elbows instead of their hands. Also, many shops and public places no longer provide hand washing basins, soap and sanitisers for their visitors. 

A trader at Umuahia market, Mrs Joy Ike, told The Guardian she thought that COVID-19 was over because the curfew imposed by the state government had been relaxed.

On his part, a retired headmaster, Chief Okoro Kalu, said he was worried that many people residing in urban areas would travel home for Christmas and new year celebrations and might infect rural dwellers in the course of interacting with them.

“How do you know who is infected with the pandemic?” he asked.

Kalu advised people not to visit their villages this period unless certified COVID-19 free.

There Is No Cause For Alarm, Declares Plateau Govt
PLATEAU State has no reported case of Yellow fever yet. But observations showed that residents have thrown caution to the wind with regard to complying with COVID-19 safety protocol.

A retired civil servant in the state, Jonah James, told The Guardian that, “COVID-19 has come and gone,” adding that residents in the state had put the fear behind them and were praying that it does not resurface again.

James said he was not afraid of mingling with any traveller from any part of the country but noted that he would hesitate to interact with those returning from countries where COVID-19 was ravaging.

Speaking on the precautions people should take during this year’s yuletide, Chief Medical Director of the popular Victory Clinic in Jos, Dr. Louis Okoye, urged Nigerians to be very careful about the food they take.

“There should be personal hygiene; meaning maintenance of cleanliness. People should cook food very well before consumption,” Okoye submitted.

Okoye said those who keep to the precautions should not entertain any fear while celebrating the yuletide.

The state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Ninkong Lar, could not be reached to speak on the state’s preparedness to curb the spread the diseases during yuletide. But a senior member of the ministry, who pleaded anonymity, said that precautionary measures had been put in place, adding that there was “no cause for alarm.”
Enugu: Govt. Shifts Attention To Containing Yellow Fever Spread
WITH Yellow fever ravaging four local councils in Enugu State, the attention of the state government seems to be focused on stemming the spread of the disease rather than enforcing COVID-19 safety measures ahead of yuletide. And as some countries are embarking on a second lockdown due to the resurgence of COVID-19, residents in the state appear to be singing a different tune as they hardly remember that the disease still exists. They no longer observe measures earlier put in place to check its spread. Public places which hitherto had hand washing facilities no longer have them even as wearing protective devices like face masks have become a matter of choice.

The government, which was before now releasing daily data on the pandemic, had long stopped; just as the isolation centres are almost without human activities. In fact, residents are carrying on as if the disease does not exist in the state any longer.

However, since the confirmation of the outbreak of yellow fever in four local councils of the state comprising Igbo-Eze North, Nsukka, Isi-Uzo and Igbo-Etiti, the state government has not only vaccinated residents of the affected areas, but also put processes in motion to check the spread of the disease. Last week, the government said it was targeting to vaccinate 922,463 residents in the affected areas.

Executive Secretary of Enugu State Primary Health Care Development Agency (ENSPHCDA), Dr George Ugwu, stated that the government was concerned with checking the spread and cutting transmission so as to make the communities safe.

“We are leaving no stone unturned and we have moved in our health educators and mobilisers to further educate the locals as well as already running mass media and traditional media awareness concerning the disease.

“We want them to ensure that anybody that is sick is reported to the nearest health facility for proper diagnostic care in order to check self medication and superstitious beliefs that lead to health complications most times,” he said.

He disclosed that there was no need for anyone to panic about the disease, stressing that, “the government is in control of the outbreak clinically and has taken the right and appropriate steps to see that our people are protected.”

He urged the people to adhere to precautionary measures, saying that containing the disease, “should be a collective effort of people while the government continues to provide the support.”

A businessman in the state, Chukwudi Onah, however, stated that there was nothing new about Yellow fever and Coronavirus, stressing that what mattered was for people to continue to maintain high hygiene standards.

Onah stated that the yuletide season offers opportunity to people to engage in festivities, stressing that, “except for the bad economy brought about by COVID-19, I think there is nothing wrong for people to travel and celebrate with their loved ones.”

He added: “The fact that we survived COVID-19 is enough reason for anyone to celebrate. This is because when the disease came, nobody believed that those of us in Africa would survive due to our poor health facilities. But we have survived and will continue to survive. So, there are more than enough reasons to celebrate.

“I have nothing to fear about the spread. That does not mean people should not continue to maintain the precautionary rules. We should as much as possible be cautious of what we do and where we go, apply the necessary rules like sanitising oneself and using our face masks or shield when necessary, among others. We are doing it for ourselves and nothing more.”

A health practitioner, Joy Osuagwu, however, said the drop in confirmed cases of the COVID-19 could have brought about the near failure of the people to observe the safety protocols against it.

She urged the government to improve the level of awareness on the ravaging diseases as a matter of responsibility.

“Our people travel a lot and since we will be mixing up with those coming from here and there, we should know that it is not over until it is over.

Mixing up in such a situation paves way for easy transmission. So, let it not be lost on the people that while they eat and make merry, there is a need to secure lives as much as we can,” she said.

Imo: Uzodimma Orders Arrest Of Face Mask Defaulters
IMO State now has 662 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus disease and 12 deaths. To curtail further spread, the state government has ordered security agencies to arrest face mask defaulters in public places.

The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, disclosed this after a recent State Executive Council meeting presided over by Governor Hope Uzodimma.

The commissioner reminded residents in the state that the there was a subsisting Executive Order signed by the governor on the use of face mask in public places.

He also stated that the community testing exercise was still ongoing, warning that community transmission would likely to occur during Christmas festivities.

The Guardian, however, observed that despite the order, residents in Owerri, the state capital and even those living in rural communities believe that the virus does not exist and have continued to ignore the directive.

The State Coordinator of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr. Sebastian Okwu, a medical doctor, urged residents to continue observing safety protocols such as wearing of face masks, constant washing of hands with running water, application of sanitisers and maintaining social distance in a gathering, among others.

He said: “As people celebrate the Christmas holiday, they must apply health safety consciousness always. This is because people will come from different states to their home state, Imo.”

Another medical doctor, Dr. Chizo Umunna, re-echoed his view, saying the pandemic was real and “it is not all over until it is over.” 

Gov. Ayade Cancels Carnival Calabar
THERE are indications that with the COVID-19 pandemic still ravaging countries across the globe and the outbreak of Yellow fever in some parts of Nigeria, fun seekers in Cross River State would miss some of the activities that made them look forward to the period. Already, the state government has suspended the annual Carnival Calabar where tourists from all parts of the world converged to celebrate.

Some residents in the state told The Guardian that even with the suspension of the carnival, those travelling in and out of the state could easily spread the diseases.

Speaking on government’s plans towards securing the health of residents during the period, the Director General of the State Primary Healthcare and Development Agency, Dr. Janet Ekpenyong, said the state government has decided to suspend the yearly Carnival Calabar and other activities lined up for the season.

Ekpenyong noted that the ministry of health has embarked on sensitisation of road transport workers and commuters on the need to comply with COVID-19 protocols during the period. She said the ministry has also advised residents in the state not to travel to states that have been recording high cases of COVID-19 and Yellow fever.

She advised those that must travel to adhere to the safety measures of avoiding crowded places, regular hand washing and the use of facemask in public places.

She said: “It is no longer news that the world is faced with a pandemic. However, I am glad that Cross River State is one of those states that have not recorded high numbers and there is this fear of another wave of COVID-19 but we are happy it has not happened.

“As part of our measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 or other transmittable diseases, the state government has already put the Carnival Calabar on hold because it is rightly stated that some of these diseases are transmitted in crowded places. Apart from that, we know that a lot of people will be travelling during the season. So, we are collaborating with road transport workers and commuters to see how we can curb the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases.”

A resident, who simply identified herself as Ukeme, said her fear was that a lot of people were still living in denial of COVID-19 pandemic.

A businessman, John Ebri, lamented that the outbreak of both COVID-19 and Yellow fever would affect his business following government’s cancellation of this year’s Carnival Calabar.

Ebri, who sells fast food and drinks on the carnival road, said: “My fear is that any of us can contact it without knowing because there will be a lot of travelling and exchange of visits during the period. Beyond all these, my real fear is that I won’t make the kind of sales I used to because the government has cancelled Carnival Calabar.”
Fear Grips Benue Residents As Yellow Fever Spreads To Three Local Councils
IN Benue State, the outbreak of Yellow fever in some local councils of the state – Ogbadibo,  Apa and Okpokwu – amid COVID-19 pandemic has added to the fears of residents. They are afraid that the disease could spread to the remaining 20 local councils if not properly handled by health authorities. 

The Guardian gathered that the disease, which first broke out in the state in Ogbadibo local council, has killed not less than 53 persons in Ogbadibo and Okpokwu.

But as a proactive measure, the state government has embarked on massive vaccination of residents against the deadly disease.

The Executive Secretary, Primary Healthcare Board, Dr. Bem Agenda, said the state was allocated over four million doses of Yellow fever vaccines for the exercise.

The Chief Medical Director of Benue State University Teaching Hospital (BSUTH), Prof. Terlumun Swende, advised people not to travel without cogent reason during the Christmas season.

He further urged residents to continue to observe all the COVID-19 protocols and to get vaccinated against yellow fever.

The state Commissioner for Science and Technology, who is also overseeing the state Ministry of Health and Human Services, Dr Godwin Oyiwona, however, said there was cause no cause for panic, noting that government was fully in control of the situation.

Some residents who spoke with The Guardian lauded the state government’s proactive measures against the spread of yellow fever.

Yellow Fever: Bauchi Residents Demand Mosquito Nets From Govt
THE Bauchi State Ministry of Health has said that 10 people have died following the outbreak of yellow fever in the state.

Some residents in the state, who spoke with The Guardian, however, said the government has not created enough awareness about the disease when compared to COVID-19. Others, however, believe that Yellow fever is peculiar to the lower class of the society.

According to a resident, Ibrahim Sabo, “Yellow fever has killed more than the celebrated COVID-19 but unfortunately the government is not prioritising its control.”

He added that many villagers don’t sleep under mosquito net and the level of awareness against the disease was poor.

Another resident, Afsat Umar, said she could not protect her family against the disease because of the nature of her environment and non-availability of mosquito nets. “Can we really prevent ourselves from this thing. There are nine of us in this family; we share only two mosquito nets,” she said.

The state government, however, said it would soon embark on massive vaccination against the disease in 19 of 20 local government areas of the state, saying Alkaleri local council was vaccinated last year.

The Commissioner for Health, Dr. Aliyu Maigoro, said: “We are hoping to get support from the NCDC. We have notified them accordingly and they tested the results; so they are aware of the positive cases in Bauchi. Once we get their support, we are going to take yellow fever vaccination to all the 19 local councils.

“Currently, we have only 10,000 vaccines that are on ground, which we had kept in case of this kind of emergency. We will start the vaccination with the population around the places where these cases were recorded. All the communities involved and those not also involved that are around those communities will be vaccinated for Yellow fever. Yellow fever has no cure but it has a vaccine.

“What we are doing currently is active search. We have to isolate people that are having the symptoms. Once a member of a community is presenting the symptoms, we take their samples and send them to Abuja for testing.”

He appealed to parents to allow their children to be immunised against the killer disease, saying, “if every child will be vaccinated at the nine months for measles and Yellow fever, you will not have these diseases.”

COVID-19 Messages Should Be Part Of Christmas Jingles, Say Experts
As residents prepare for the festive season, public health specialists have urged citizens to behave responsibly and adhere to all the COVID-19 rules to avoid contracting the deadly disease.

This is as the Rivers State government has disclosed that it has increased its Coronavirus testing capacity across the 23 local councils of the state to ensure the pandemic does not spread during the festive period.

However, observations by The Guardian revealed that residents appear to be lax about adhering to the COVID-19 safety rules. Most public places, including worship centres, no longer obey the safety rules like the use of hand sanitisers, wearing of facemasks and maintaining social distancing.

The state Governor, Nyesom Wike, was recently enraged by the outright disregard for the COVID-19 rules when he visited a church in Port Harcourt. He threatened to order a second COVID-19 lockdown across the state if residents fail to comply with the rules.

Speaking with The Guardian, a public health specialist, Dr. Owanalan Evelyn Chima, said the festive period would bring a lot of mixing up and fun, advising residents to adhere to the COVID-19 safety rules.

She said: “Across different countries, there is the second wave of COVID-19, and in Nigeria, we are going into a festive period. There will be a lot mixing up, festivities and fun. While we may not be able to restrict these interactions, Nigerians should apply all the precautionary measures we have been advised since the outbreak of COVID-19 by remembering to use hand sanitisers, washing their hands with soap regularly and observing social distancing.

“Everybody seems to be relaxing not just the government. So, I think government needs to become more conscious and increase the level of awareness. The jingles and messages are no longer the way they used to be. I think more of such need to come up. They can create them to suit the festive period, like wishing people Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year and injecting a COVID-19 message in it.”

Another medical expert, Dr. Igbanibo Doris, also noted: “The rules have not changed. People should still maintain physical distancing when in a social gathering; wash your hands frequently and use nose mask. Just keep maintaining all the COVID-19 rules that have been advised whether you travel to the village or not.”