The Coronavirus, known as COVID-19, which has been devastating the world since late last December, has not reached Anambra State, Nigeria’s safest state. Still, on Monday, March 23, Governor Willie Obiano shut down schools and directed civil servants not on essential services to work from home but also set up a 23-person Coronavirus Attack Team to work against the contagion in the state. To underscore the importance of the team’s work, Governor Obiano chose to head the team himself. Other members include the Speaker of the House of Assembly, the Secretary to the State Government, the Chief of Staff to the Governor, the Commissioner for Health and his counterpart in the Ministry of Information and Public Enlightenment, the state Commissioner of Police, heads of the two teaching hospitals in the state and specialists from relevant fields.
The Anambra State government has once again demonstrated its belief in the old aphorism that prevention is better than cure. The cost of preventing the viral outbreak is, in every sense, far cheaper than the cost of managing the crisis if it erupts. If the contagion could wreck Europe, China, South Korea and the United States, with all their sophisticated advances in medicare, it is not difficult to imagine what could be the fate of African countries if the virus spreads here. Had the Italian, American and British leaders, for instance, acted promptly as the Anambra State government when the contagion was reported in their respective nations, the situation would have been as cataclysmic as it is in each of these places today. Italy records on some days over 700 deaths. No wonder open religious services have been closed all over the country, including the Vatican. In the United Kingdom, the British prime minister has issued a stay-at-home order to all. Some countries are on lockdown.
Anambra State has in the last few years displayed uncanny leadership, and its latest attempt to mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus in Nigeria since the nation’s index case was reported on February 27 is just the latest brave effort to grapple with the pandemic. The Anambra State administration is the first government in the country to call citizens’ attention to the grave danger which the contagion poses. It played this role because it is fully conscious that its people are the most travelled in the whole country, and they frequently visit China and other nations hit by the pandemic for business. The government has also taken other measures like suspending burials of up to 30 persons, parties and title taking ceremonies till the situation improves.
Ndi Anambra need to cooperate fully with the government in the campaign against the COVID-19. There are a lot of markets and motor parks as well as churches in the state which record very large numbers of people. The Onitsha Main Market is reputed to be the largest open market in West Africa. Movement in the market is difficult because of the large crowds of people who buy and sell there daily, including those who come from West and Central Africa. In other words, the markets and motor garages in Nigeria are potential areas where the virus can spread fast, since it is contracted mostly through person-to-person contact and physical surfaces.
There are unfortunately people who are not yet aware of the virus. This ignorance is more pronounced in rural areas. Worse, there are people who are aware of the highly infectious disease, but strangely believe that it cannot get to Nigeria because of the false belief that it cannot survive in our hot climate. This belief persists despite that the fact that there are already over 40 COVID-19 patients in Nigeria, including the son of a former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. More disheartening is the large group of Nigerians, many of them educated, who believe, for superstitious and other strange reasons, that they cannot be infected. There are, in addition, those who believe that the disease can be treated easily with honey, garlic, ginger and hot water.
Ndi Anambra are enjoined to seek proper treatment from doctors and other medical staff members trained to manage viral outbreaks like the Coronavirus. Symptoms of the disease are high fever, vomiting, cough, sneezing and difficult breathing. Any person showing any of these symptoms should not indulge in self-medication on the assumption that he or she is afflicted by malaria or any common disease but should rather immediately contact the state’s Public Health Emergency Operation Centre via telephone numbers 08030953771 and 08117567363. It has to be noted that a person may be a carrier without showing any of the symptoms. This is why the government has been advising persons who have in the last two weeks visited any of the countries with up to 1000 recorded cases of COVID-19 to isolate themselves for 14 days. The earlier the disease is detected the easier it is to treat. The government will bear the treatment cost.
There are three hospitals in the state with isolation centres. They are Nnamdi Azikiwe Teaching Hospital in Nnewi, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu Teaching Hospital in Awka and Onitsha General Hospital. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu Teaching Hospital, Ekwulobia General Hospital in Aguata Local Government Area and Umueri General Hospital in Anambra East LGA have surge centres, that is, they can absorb patients who may not be accommodated in the three hospitals with isolation centres based on existing facilities.
Traditional rulers, presidents general of town unions, market groups, transport unions, trade unions, professional groups, the organized private sector, civil servants as well as religious leaders should be in the frontlines of the spirited campaign to ensure that our state is spared COVID-19. It is not the job of the government or medical doctors to fight this monster alone, but that of every person.
Each of us can contribute meaningfully to the campaign by washing our hands regularly with water and soap for 20 seconds which must be poured away if it is in a bowel, by airdrying our hands instead of drying them with towel or handkerchief because it may be contaminated, by using hand sanitizers always, by not shaking hands or hugging each other, by keeping away from people by some six feet, and by regularly cleaning door handles and rail surfaces with liquids containing up to 60% alcohol. It is reassuring that a lot of hotels, hospitals, offices and homes have been observing these rules. Churches, markets, motor parks, transport owners and operators have also joined in observing these rules.
The Anambra State Government has shown the light, and the people are happily finding the way. God bless Anambra State, the Light of the Nation.
-C. Don Adinuba is Commissioner for Information & Public Enlightenment, Anambra State.