If you are a very mindful and careful person, visiting the website of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, serially is the beginning of COVID-19 wisdom. There you can get a snapshot on what damage the disease is causing in Nigeria every day.
At the same time, you can also feel the pulse of Nigerians in their comments and see clearly how we generally feel about the pandemic that is still raving the world some eight months down the road.
For me, it has become a must to visit the website. I am able to learn a little more about what we all need to do; in order to keep our proverbial brothers and ourselves safe from the pandemic. Every little illness becomes dramatic, particularly if one or more symptoms of COVID-19 is present. You can imagine my surprise when about three weeks ago I watched helplessly as power drained out of me. Indeed, I was at my weakest.
My first thought was that it could be malaria. But having not had malaria in decades, my mind switched to COVID-19. But as you know, we Nigerians would usually say: God forbid bad thing. I had reasons to shout it out too. I consider myself very up to date about how to keep myself safe.
Specifically, I wash my hands obsessively and also mask up always whenever I have to go out; usually to buy groceries at supermarkets inside my estate. With my situation deteriorating, a friend eventually went with me to a hospital near me. I was asked to go to its diagnostics centre for a test. I was told I had malaria parasite.
The news hit me extremely hard and frightened the bejesus out of me. Where did that come from now, I asked myself. I was in my early 20s when I last had a bad bout of malaria that took me to the military hospital in Ibadan. On this occasion, some medications were eventually prepared for me to last a few days. However, it still took a couple of weeks for me to start feeling like my old self again.
Could it then be that Nigerians just treat themselves for malaria and are fearful of being diagnosed with COVID-19 if they report themselves to testing centres? If, in my case, if he malaria treatment had not worked; would I have escalated my case and gone to a testing centre?
Truthfully. I do not know. It is a dilemma many Nigerians face and may be part of the driving force behind the supposedly low COVID-19 infection rates in the country.
It is true that Nigeria has crossed those grim statistics of more than 50,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases; as well as more than 1,000 deaths. However, in a country the size of Nigeria with a population of 200 million people; are the figures really realistic? By Tuesday 1 September, there were 239 more confirmed Coronavirus cases; thus bringing the total number throughout the country to 54,247 cases from the 411,077 samples collected and tested. The country had also recorded 1,023 deaths too. Prior to September 1, there had been a decline in recorded confirmed cases. This had led to the debate about the flattening of the COVID-19 curve. Are we there yet? Or are we delusional? Or is this just an illusion, a fantasy?
Members of the Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19 are truly clear in their views that Nigerians cannot start celebrating the low number of confirmed cases yet. At the PTF’s briefing on August 31, head of Disease Surveillance at Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC; Elsie Ilori said: “In the month of August, we had a very low number of samples collected. In July, there were seven states with decreased samples collected. But unfortunately in August, it increased to 32 states with decreased samples. In July, we had 13 states that actually collected over 1,000 samples. For August, no state met that target. That means we had zero states collecting over 1,000 samples.”
Ironically, the promise of the PTF was to have tested two million Nigerians by now and move on to four million. It increased its testing centres from two to 64 to accomplish that task. But it is clear that the states, their governments, and citizens are not doing their part. As Boss Mustapha, the PTF chairman, said on August 20, while decrying the nonchalant attitude of Nigerians to COVID-19; “We would have flattened the curve. We would have dampened this ravaging virus by now if we had just complied with simple instructions.
“In terms of even testing, we have ramped up our testing capacity from two to 64 within a period of four months…We can test up to 15,000 samples a day. But how many are we testing? So, our major challenge as a Presidential Task Force has been the attitude (of Nigerians).”
So, while confirmed cases of COVID-19 appear to be decreasing; they truly may not represent what is going on in the country. There is no doubt that the federal and state governments have bottled the enforcement of the rules set up to stem the ravages of COVID-19 The federal government has succumbed to pressures from the various socio-economic communities. Consequently, it has allowed state governments to open up practically everything now.
It was difficult enforcing the rules while the country was in lockdown. In this new dispensation, just a few Nigerians really worry about COVID-19 rules. Today, you can only see a few people in a sea of humanity who wear face masks. Even in supermarkets and other public places, enforcing COVID-19 is observed in the breach. What is happening elsewhere around the world with second and even third waves of COVID-19 have no relevance in our Nigeria. We all feel like super humans who would not be affected by this horrible disease.
Yet, we all know that to be on the right side of this pandemic, we must do the needful. Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire explains it in plain language. “Until there is a vaccine, the only options we have to protect ourselves are still the non-pharmaceutical measures such as the appropriate use of masks, physical distancing and avoiding crowds. If we do not adhere, there could be regrets.”
The reality of our situation here is that the curve is really not flattening. It would be delusional to think it is. What is happening is that our testing capacity is not being used optimally. But it behoves all of us to remember to be our brothers’ keepers. The mask you wear helps to reduce his chances of contracting COVID-19 from you; while the mask he wears does the same for you.
It is better to be alive than to be dead from Coronavirus. God forbid bad thing.