Tajudeen Kareem and Success Nwogu
Eminent medical authorities have expressed support for the National Summit on COVID-19 opening in Abuja today.
The medical experts include a former Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu; former Chief Medical Director, University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, Professor Abdulwaheed Olatinwo; the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research, Technology and Innovation, University of Ilorin, Professor Mikhail Olayinka Buhari and a former National Chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians of Nigeria, Professor Tanimola Akande.
They stated that the summit will provide a veritable platform to analyse the strategies adopted by the Federal Government to fight the coronavirus pandemic which has killed over 5.24 million people across the globe.
The forum will examine strategies, innovations and mechanisms in tackling the virus in Nigeria and explore the preparedness to face future challenges.
The Chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee, PSC, on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha said the summit will effectively capture the core elements of Nigeria’s response to end COVID-19 in 2022 and to strengthen Global Health Security.
The forum will signpost the end of PSC’s renewed mandate lasting nine months and provide a platform, in the words of Mustapha, “to effectively capture the core elements of the national response”.
At the last count, 28 countries including Nigeria, have confirmed cases of OMICRON variant of COVID-19 in their countries. The World Health Organisation has categorised it as a “variant of concern” and said early evidence suggests it has a higher re-infection risk.
Indeed, the data of COVID-19 onslaught on humanity has been devastating. According to Statista.com, as of November 30, 2021, COVID-19, had spread to six continents, while about 5,225,521 people had died worldwide after contracting the respiratory virus.
Statista.com, gave the death data as: United States of America, 801,326; Brazil, 614,428; India, 468,980; Mexico, 293,950; Russia, 273,964; Peru, 201,144; United Kingdom, 144,810; Indonesia, 143,813; Italy, 133,739; Iran, 129,711; Columbia, 128,473; France, 119,016; Argentina, 116,554; Germany, 101,652 and South Africa, 89,822.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control website indicated that as of 2.59pm on Thursday, 2 December 2021, there were 214,270 cases of COVID-19; 207,312 discharged cases; while 2,978 deaths had been recorded in 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory. It has also detected at least three cases of OMICRON variant of COVID-19.
The National Incident Manager of COVID-19, Dr Muktar Muhammed is convinced that the summit will help PSC to redefine Nigeria’s coronavirus response and build the health security framework for the country. That is why all critical stakeholders are being mobilised for this summit.
“The summit will help us to redefine our national COVID-19 response and build the health security framework for the country.
That is why we are mobilizing all critical stakeholders, including our development partners, for this important National Summit.
We are encouraged by the support we have received so far from our development partners and the private sector,” said Dr. Muhammed.
Prof. Chukwu suggested that the summit should also address the need for Nigeria to produce its own vaccines even as he emphasised the need for local self-reliance in the health sector.
He also wants the forum to discuss the challenges of pandemic control by and in the country and strategies and tactics to stop or mitigate importation and spread within the country.
His words: “There is a need to invite those in research, pharmaceutical industry and those in academia to discuss how we can produce our own vaccines in Nigeria.
If you invite people like that for a summit to brainstorm and also involve those who can finance it, the Central Bank of Nigeria, all the banks, financial institutions, I support that. It will show we have a focus and we are thinking of how we can start manufacturing our own vaccine.”
He stated that Nigeria, by itself, cannot end a global pandemic, adding that no single country can. He advised that it is only a global effort and collaboration that has the potential to defeat the pandemic.
“So a national summit may explore the route to the end of the pandemic but no more. A national summit as suggested above may however discuss the challenges of pandemic control by and in the country and strategies and tactics to stop or mitigate importation and spread within the country.
“I expect that the summit should be devoted to addressing critical gaps in the national effort especially vaccine availability and security, personnel, facilities and medicines for treatment, border (land, water, and air) control, the integrity of laboratory testing, and financing of the efforts”, said Prof Chukwu.
Olatinwo, a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, said the summit should improve capacity for diagnostics, therapeutic and vaccine production in Nigeria.
“The Summit is a welcome development towards pushing through to end the COVID 19 pandemic and build back a better resilient health system. It is my candid belief that the summit will be principle-led, evidence-based and outcome-driven through the strengthening of health systems, increase human resources for health, partnership and improve capacity for diagnostics, therapeutic and vaccine production,” said Olatinwo.
Buhari, a Professor of Pathology, said the summit should assemble all relevant stakeholders to review the strategies adopted so far in the fight against the pandemic even as he cautioned that the forum should not end as a talk show while observations and resolutions are allowed to gather dust on the shelves.
“I believe it is a welcome development and a right move that will bring together all the important stakeholders under one roof. It will afford the nation the opportunity to review the response, especially the important lessons picked up along the way.
“Importantly, we can fashion strategies that will take into consideration our peculiarities as a nation in our future response to this pandemic and any other affliction. One can only hope it won’t end up as a mere talk show with lip services paid to the observations and resolutions,” said Buhari.
Akande expressed concern that many Nigerians are still carefree and were no longer observing health precautions and COVID-19 protocols. He noted that such laxity could be detrimental to national and individual health and wished that the summit would reactivate strategies and measures to curb such lethargy.
“The summit is good. It is to promote awareness. It will promote awareness and if people know their various roles, there is nothing wrong with reinforcing knowledge.
“If the summit is to promote knowledge, that’s good. The objectives of the summit are okay because by what Nigerians are doing, it is like they do not know what is wrong with us with COVID-19.
Even our behaviour is business as usual. If you go out now, you can count how many people are wearing masks. But if there is a forum that can educate them to see the reason why they should, it is good,” Akande submitted.
The Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr. Faisal Shuaib said the PSC is aware that some Nigerians are hesitant coming out to get vaccinated against COVID-19 for many reasons, ranging from personal beliefs, unfounded fears and the seeming rigours of finding vaccination sites.
He, however, cautioned that waiting too long to be vaccinated allows the virus to continue spreading in the community with the emergence of new variants. He also advised that the sooner people get vaccinated, the sooner they are protected.
Shuaib said: “This is a period of intensive drive to protect Nigerians against the new variant and indeed a 4th wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are not taking anything for granted; we are not compromising on safety and standard and we are fully monitoring all adverse events following immunisation.
“But as I have always appealed, we need the support of all Nigerians. We need every vaccinated Nigerian to appeal to their family members, their loved ones, their neighbours, and members of their communities to get vaccinated so that we are all protected. It is indeed a collective responsibility.
“This is a clarion call to those who are yet to be vaccinated to hurry up and take advantage of our mass vaccination campaign to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Those who have received their first dose should also endeavour to go and get their second dose on their due dates, for full protection.
“Remember, no one is safe from COVID-19 until everyone is safe from it. For those who are yet to get vaccinated, I want to point out that over six million Nigerians have taken the vaccines, over 6 million Nigerians cannot be wrong. So what are you waiting for?”
There are high hopes that the summit will discover mechanisms that will tame COVID-19 and keep Nigerians safe and away from its deadly pangs in 2022 and thereafter.
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