Serving When It Matters Most:
- Posted By Vitalis_Obidiaghaa | On September-28-2020 13:56:04
- HOW THE PRESIDENTIAL TASK FORCE IS CONTAINING THE SPREAD OF COVID-19 IN NIGERIA.
By: Vitalis Obidiaghaa
Just recently, I read a hilarious twitter message from one of Nigeria’s social media influencers who tried to summarize the year 2020. His succinct summarization of the year 2020 was; “January, February, March and Covid-19.’’ In his view, the year 2020 has January, February, March and the rest, is Covid-19, - representing the significant impact of Covid-19 in the socio-economic and political affairs of the global community.
One may view his opinion as a comic relief from the psychological fatigue that affected stakeholders as they strived to contain the effects of the pandemic, but a deep and thoughtful examination of the above reveals a deeper meaning with historical import. For those who are conscious of history, the year 2020 has come to represent a remarkable year in the first quarter of the 21st century because of the advent of COVID-19, a global pandemic that has become a dark spot on a century that has been foretold to usher humanity into an unprecedented height in human progress. Many historians see the similarities between Covid-19 and the Spanish influenza of 1918 as a remarkable historical coincidence. It is shocking for many to observe how this virus has confounded and confused the entire world; bringing even the more advanced democracies and economies that have existed for the last 300 years on their knees, exposing the inherent weaknesses in their social structures.
It is no longer news that the world as we know it is going through a reset, - what many have defined as the new normal, - but what many may not be conscious of is the historical underpinnings of that reset. What began as a distant news from Wuhan, China in December 2019, has expanded to touch nearly every corner of the globe, redefining economic and social realities on a global proportion and sending socio-economic shock-waves across the nations of the world. For the first time in over a century, we see as individuals, communities, corporations and nations unite in solidarity, striving to contain the effects of this common enemy of humanity. From America to Italy, Brazil to Russia, we see as people, whether as private citizens or as leaders respond to the urgent need to serve humanity, often going the extra-mile in their quest to serve others, reinforcing human brotherhood.
From the moment we were ordered to stay-at-home during lockdowns as COVID-19 was spreading furiously in March, till this moment, no one is isolated from the social impact of this pandemic. Many have been forced to change their lifestyles as a response to the uncertainties of the moment while others have now come to develop an acute focus on the world around us, appreciating more of those things which we took for granted before. For many months, we have not hugged a parent or grandparent for fear of killing them. We have changed the way we greeted ourselves. We often watch in the news as people waited in hospital parking lots while loved ones died inside the hospitals and they couldn’t even attend the burial ceremonies to pay their last respect. The contagion was too fearsome. The developing numbers show that this state of being appears to be nowhere near its end and it is taking a toll on all of us.
Since January, thousands of people have died and millions have filed for unemployment globally. Children have been ripped from classrooms and cut off from school. We have altered our socialization and exercise lifestyle in favour of sit-at-home quarantine. Social distancing and mask wearing have become part of our lives now. Parents working from home are exhausted after months of joggling their main jobs with other informal ones like teaching and caregiving. The unemployed are additionally grappling with the worry of finding new work, faced with devastating economic realities. These are just few amongst the many ways in which this global pandemic is redefining our social interactions.
Nigeria, being part of the global community is not free from this pandemic. The Federal Ministry of Health confirmed a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) case in Lagos State on the 27th of February 2020. The incidence was the first case to be reported in Nigeria since the beginning of the outbreak in China in January 2020. That first case is an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria and returned from Milan, Italy to Lagos, Nigeria on the 25th of February 2020. He was confirmed by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
Responsively, President Muhammadu Buhari established the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on March 9, 2020, to coordinate and oversee Nigeria’s multi-sectoral inter-governmental efforts to contain the spread and mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. The members of the Presidential Task Force include; Mr. Boss Mustapha, (SGF) Chair, Dr. Sani Aliyu, National Coordinator, Dr. Osagie Enanire, Hon. Minister of Health, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Hon. Minister of Interior, Sen. Sirika Hadi, Hon. Minister of Aviation, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq, Hon. Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Services, Mallam Adamu Adamu, Hon. Minister of Education, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, Hon. Minister of Information and Culture, Dr. Mohammad M. Abubakar, Hon. Minister of Environment, Alhaji Yusuf Magaji Bichi, Director General, State Services, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Dr. Fiona Braka, WHO Acting Country Representative.
The terms of reference for the Presidential Task Force is to provide overall policy direction, guidance, and continuous support to the National Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the NCDC, and other Ministries and Government Agencies involved in response activities, and ensure their coordination towards a single set of national strategic objectives. Others include to enable the delivery of national and state-level outbreak control priorities which include; effective and safe treatment centres to ensure capacity to manage outbreaks, Coordination of National and State Emergency Operation Centres, Response commodities for case management, infection prevention and control, diagnostics, etc, Sensitization and awareness campaigns for the general public on prevention measures and response activities, Diagnostic laboratories and deployment strategies.
The Presidential Task Force’s mandate also includes to review and make approval recommendations for implementing country-wide or regional non-pharmaceutical interventions if and when needed; such as school closures, suspension of large gatherings, implementation of social distancing, flight limitations etc, provide recommendations for the provision of direct funding and technical support to states and local governments to strengthen their preparedness capacity and mobilise human, material and financial resources from within and outside the country for effective national and state-level preparedness, define targets and monitor the progress in the delivery of these targets to meet the minimum requirements for a satisfactory performance and use this to advise the Presidency on the overall national response to COVID-19, coordinate Nigeria’s engagement with other countries’ bilateral and multilateral bodies, international organisations to share lessons, best practices, and technical assistance and to keep the public abreast of strategic progress with Nigeria’s response, and emerging developments regarding preparedness and response.
To effectively achieve the mandate of the Presidential Task Force, a National COVID-19 Response Centre (NCRC), was established within the Presidential Task Force, headed by the National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force, Mr. Boss Mustapha who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. The NCRC provides strategic guidance and coordinates the efforts of multi-sectoral and multilateral actors as well as resources involved in the national response to ensure proper synergy and efficiency. To this end, the NCRC has developed a comprehensive National COVID-19 Multisectoral Pandemic Response Plan, which has served as a blueprint for a coordinated national strategy to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For seamless coordination of the broad mandate, the Presidential Task Force developed diverse functional areas which include; Presidential Task Force National Pandemic Response Center (NPRC) Coordination, Epidemiology & Surveillance, Risk Communication & Community Engagement, Laboratory, Security, Logistics & Mass Care, Points of Entry, Resource Mobilization, Infection, Prevention & Control, Research, Case Management, Finance Monitoring & Compliance. These were the structural mechanisms that positioned the Presidential Task Force for effective delivery of its mandate.
Being conscious of the strategic role for stakeholders participation towards the containment of this pandemic, the Presidential Task Force executed a subtle social mobilization strategy, reaching out to broad spectrum of stakeholders which included; health workers (our last line of defence), security agencies, State Governments, the private sector, traditional and religious leaders, international community, professional bodies and public-spirited Nigerians. The result of the consultation can be seen in the support which the Presidential Task Force has received from these groups.
As we observed the increase in the number of cases across the nation with its consequential effects on our socio-economic structures, exposing inherent flaws especially within our economic and health sectors, there was a consensus amongst informed officials to place the nation on total lockdown, to prevent further spread of the virus. Consequently, the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 instituted several measures to curtail the spread of the disease and protect the health of Nigerians. These included; the initial lockdown of Lagos and Ogun States as well as the FCT; Ban on flights to prevent importation, Ban on inter-state travels and domestic flights; Closure of schools and religious centres; Imposition of nationwide curfew, Prescription of measures to be observed, to prevent spread such as: – Mandatory use of non-medical face mask/covering in public spaces – Mandatory provision of handwashing facilities/sanitisers – Extensive temperature checks in all public spaces – Physical distancing of 2 metres between people in workplaces and other public spaces; – Prohibition of gathering of more than twenty (20) persons outside of a workplace and of course, easing of the lockdown in phases to allow for gradual reopening of the economy.
In addition to non-pharmaceutical measures, the following capacity was also developed: Expansion of the testing laboratories from two (2) to 38; Trained over 13,000 health workers in Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC); Developed policy and protocols for testing returning Nigerians; Developed policies and protocols for integration of primary healthcare into national response; Developed stronger and sustainable policy for community engagement and risk Communication, Collaborated with development partners to boost our resources and enrich our capacity for technical response; Raised the isolation centre bed space from three-thousand to over five thousand nation wide.
The Presidential Task Force have consistently pursued a National Response that was under-pinned by science, data and global experiences that placed a high premium on our local peculiarities. The importance of this approach is further underscored by Mr. President’s call during the recent Extra-ordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against the COVID-19 (Video Conferencing), when he called for knowledge sharing as a fundamental aspect of dealing with this pandemic, globally.
Another significant initiative of the Presidential Task Force is the introduction of the daily media briefings, which kept stakeholders and the general public abreast of the facts as they unfolded. This initiative played a great role in mobilizing the needed support of the public while disseminating accurate data for critical decision making by professionals who were on the frontline. It is worthy of note to state that the daily briefings provided the veritable platform for the needed collaboration between the media and the Presidential Task Force, further deepening the sensitization and awareness campaigns for the general public on prevention measures and response activities.
The efforts of the Presidential Task Force have not been without some challenges. Like the rest of the world, the National Response continues to face challenges, especially as there is no known cure for the virus, presently. These include inadequate infrastructure, manpower shortage, global shortage of essential items (test kits, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)), strain on the economy which has compelled the need to balance between lives and livelihoods. By far the greatest challenges are human resistance to change, stigmatization, mental health, cynicism, culture, religious belief, rising incidents of domestic violence and a host of others.
As at the time of this report, the 23rd of August of 2020, 322 new confirmed cases and 5 deaths were recorded in Nigeria. Till date, 52227 cases have been confirmed, 38945 cases have been discharged and 1002 deaths have been recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, bringing the active cases to 12,280. The 322 new cases are reported from 18 states- Lagos(130), Bauchi(36), FCT(25), Edo(17), Bayelsa(14), Ogun(14), Oyo(14), Anambra(13), Kaduna(12), Ondo(11), Abia(10), Osun(6), Plateau(5), Kwara(5), Kano(4), Ebonyi(3), Sokoto(2), Borno(1). To ensure a continuous monitoring scheme across the nation, a multi-sectoral national emergency operations centre (EOC), activated at Level 3, continues to coordinate the national response activities.
As the Presidential Task Force strives to push the frontiers of research at domestic and international levels and as the debate on which drugs will be clinically suitable also continues, one can’t but commend the diligence and resilience of the Presidential Task Force for the historic role it has played in safeguarding our nation from the onslaught of this deadly pandemic. When you consider the fact that many international pundits predicted that Africa will be worst hit by this pandemic and the skyrocketing number of deaths per ratio in other nations especially the more advanced democracies, you will then better appreciate the efforts of this elite squad who staked their lives in service to our nation when it mattered most. When the history of this century is recorded in future, it will be boldly stated that there was a team of patriots, - the members of Presidential Task Force, - who rose to preserve lives during the deadly Covid 19 Pandemic. History will never forget.