Still On COVID-19
Since Coronavirus (COVID-19) first reared its ugly head in December, 2019, in far away Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in China, a lot has changed. It has apparently turned the world upside down. Peace and tranquility which the people have hitherto enjoyed without inhibition seem to have deserted the globe. Panic and fear have crept in and becoming the order of the day in virtually all continents of the world.
Moreover, things appear to have really fallen apart and the centre seems not to hold any longer. The respiratory disease which the World Health Organisation (WHO), aptly described as a global pandemic, has continued to ravage and make mince meat of mankind, leaving in its wake pain, anguish and thousands of deaths. What is happening in the world today is only comparable to a war time.
Worse still, there is no sign of it abating in sight, as no vaccine for its cure has been discovered, even though scientists and medical experts are working round the clock to provide a panacea. At the last count, over 30,000 persons have died from the virus across the globe.
In fact, the rapidity with which the pandemic is spreading across the globe is unprecedented, most astonishing and alarming. In the history of the world, there is nothing compared to it. In response, and as a way of checking the widespread of the virus, various measures have been put in place.
There are massive lockdowns all over the world. Today, sporting events and activities are suspended or outrightly cancelled; and airports are closed. Businesses, contracts and appointments are put off; with heavy tolls on mankind. Stocks have continued to have free falls. Global oil prices have crashed. There are travel bans and restrictions here and there.
Today, the world is literally at a standstill; it is virtually convulsing, courtesy of the Coronavirus pandemic. Overnight, the fear of COVID-19 has become the beginning of wisdom in almost all countries of the world. As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently asserted, “monitoring, containing and mitigating the effects of the disease should be top priorities for countries”.
Interestingly, several countries have swung into action to contain the spread of the ravaging monster. In Nigeria, for example, which has confirmed 131 cases so far, with two deaths, the Federal Government has taken drastic measures to curtail the spread of the disease.
It had earlier announced the closure of Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa; Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano; and the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu; and later placed total ban on international travels at all the airports in the country. It equally imposed travel ban on 13 countries which it considered to have high risk of the pandemic as well as banned public and civil servants from foreign travels, among other measures.
On Sunday, President Muhammadu Buhari addressed the nation on the situation and revealed the measures and some palliatives the government has put in place to cushion the effects of the disease on the citizenry.
We boldly state that some of the palliatives are not what Nigerians are expecting from the government today. The Federal Government should borrow a leaf from other countries which are providing other forms of palliatives to their citizens.
Most significantly, as soon as the news of the outbreak of the pandemic broke, the Rivers State Government swung into action by constituting a five-man Inter-Ministerial Committee on Enlightenment and Awareness Creation on COVID-19, to undertake aggressive sensitisation campaigns to check the menace of the contagion in the state. The committee, headed by the State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, has not relented in intensifying the campaigns by reaching out to critical stakeholders in the state.
Sensitisation jingles and messages aired on radio, television and newspapers, which the state government through the committee has powered, are no doubt going a long way to put the disease under control in the state.
These are beyond the efforts being personally made by the state Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, to contain the spread of the disease in the state. First, the Governor directed all schools and tertiary institutions in the state to shutdown till further notice. Regrettably, Rivers State has recorded one index case as confirmed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
In furtherance of the commitment of the state government to protect Rivers residents, Governor Wike also announced the closure of all borders including air, sea and land routes into the state to traffic and banned vehicular movements in and out of the state. He equally closed down all public parks, night clubs and cinemas till further notice and banned public burials and wedding ceremonies across the state. He has signed the Executive Orders to give verve to all the directives issued by the state government to check the spread of the disease.
The government had earlier set up a 12-man task force on enforcement of the ban on public gatherings and places of worship headed by the Governor as a way of containing the spread of the disease.
Indeed, The Tide commends the actions taken by the state government so far to ensure that the incidence of COVID-19 in the state is reduced to the barest minimum. We believe that this is not the time to let down the guard. The sensitisation campaigns must be intensified.
The closure of the state’s borders by the Governor was the real icing on the cake in terms of the proactive measures adopted by government to contain the spread of the disease in the state. In fact, the government needs the support and cooperation of the Federal Government as well as all and sundry, to ensure that this particular measure works effectively.
We are also elated that the government is strengthening and enhancing the surveillance measures already in place to prevent the importation of the virus into the state. The truth remains that the battle against the pandemic is a battle that must be fought and won. For this to be realised, we think, all hands must be on deck.
All residents of the State must, therefore, observe basic principles of hygiene as recommended by experts by washing their hands regularly with soap and using alcohol-based sanitisers as well as keeping their immediate surroundings clean at all times. This is because, as they say, cleanliness is next to Godliness.
Again, the social distancing policy of the government must be strictly obeyed and enforced among other directives issued by the state government to actually contain the spread of COVID – 19.
Ending TB Mortality Rate In Nigeria
Last Friday, the 24th of March 2023, commemorated World Tuberculosis Day 2023 to raise awareness about the deadly infection. The World Tuberculosis Day, one of eight global health campaigns marked by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is observed to build public awareness about the global epidemic of tuberculosis and efforts towards the eradication of the disease.
WHO proclaimed the day World Tuberculosis Day in 1882, when Dr Robert Koch of the University of Berlin’s Institute of Health announced to the scientific community that he had discovered the cause of tuberculosis. He explained the aetiology of the deadly disease and pioneered the diagnosis and avenues of treatment. Tuberculosis, also known as TB, is a contagious respiratory infection caused by the bacterium mycobacterium tuberculosis, which attacks a patient’s lungs.
Before Koch’s discovery, tuberculosis not only ravaged Europe and the Americas, killing one in seven people, but was wrongly thought to be hereditary.
Tuberculosis remains one of the world’s deadliest infectious killers, spread by inhaling tiny droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Although a serious infectious disease, with proper treatment, it is not only preventable but also curable.
This year is critical for all who are engaged in TB work and should be championed as the ‘year of hope’ to get full support, attention, and energy for a collective ‘YES! We Can End TB’. There are several key areas to focus on, such as funding needs to scale up implementation and accelerate development of new tools, including new TB vaccines, access to new rapid molecular diagnostics and new shorter and more effective treatment regimens, TB prevention, childhood TB, strengthen and fund the community.
The world is grappling with this contagious and devastating disease. WHO’s commemoration of it is the means by which it highlights its impact on national life and the need to work together to eradicate it. The annual themes in this global fight have reflected the various and cumulative aspects of the fight. For example, the theme in year 2000, “Forging New Partnerships to Stop TB,” emphasized the need for a collaborative effort in the fight.
In 2001, it was DOTS: TB Cure For All, and while in 2010 it was “Innovate To Accelerate Action” and “It’s Time To End TB” in 2020. The theme for this year, “Invest To End TB. Save Lives”, conveys the urgent need to invest resources to ramp up the fight against TB and achieve the commitments to end TB made by global leaders.
This is especially critical in the COVID-19 pandemic that has put ‘End TB’ progress at risk, and to ensure fair access to prevention and care in line with WHO’s drive towards achieving Universal Health Coverage. WHO estimates that each day, over 4,100 people lose their lives to TB and close to 28,000 people fall ill with this preventable and curable disease.
Unfortunately, WHO states that the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed years of progress made in the fight to end TB. According to the WHO Global TB Report 2021, which includes data from over 200 countries, approximately 1.5 million people died from TB in 2020, up from 1.4 million in 2019. Worldwide, the WHO estimates that 9.9 million people fell ill with TB in 2021, but 4.1 million of those infected were not diagnosed or reported to national authorities. That’s up from 2.9 million in 2019.
It is instructive that this is the first increase in global TB deaths in more than a decade. Furthermore, WHO attributes the increase in deaths and decline in diagnoses and notifications to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns, which have reduced countries’ capacity to provide TB services and interfered with people’s ability to get diagnosed and treated.
This year’s theme reiterates the understanding that more investment in the fight against the disease will save a million more lives, prevent its spread and speed up the eradication of the TB epidemic. Despite significant progress over the last decades in the fight against the disease, regrettably, TB continues to be the top infectious killer worldwide.
Unfortunately, Nigeria ranks fourth in the world and first in Africa among countries with high prevalence of this killer disease. The Acting Board Chair, Stop TB Partnership Nigeria, Dr Queen Ogbuji declared in Abuja at the Pre-World TB Conference that over 156,000 Nigerians die of tuberculosis annually. This, she said, translates to 18 Nigerians dying of tuberculosis–related disease every hour and 432 daily.
This high fatality from a disease that is not only treatable, curable but preventable also, should not be allowed to continue on this dangerous curve. As usual in our environment, plenty of factors ranging from ignorance, poor environment, inadequate medical facilities, late diagnosis, cultural biases to poor budgetary provision and actual fund release accounts for this high fatality rate of the disease.
All tiers of government must commit to investing more in the health sector and in the fight against TB. Sadly, most Primary Health Centres (PHC) that ought to be the first point of call for TB patients are in comatose. Since TB thrives in poor environments and enhanced by population congestion, most times, those affected resort to presumptuous self-medication, hence giving rise to drug resistance at a later stage.
More and sustained investments are necessary to strengthen the health system at all levels, upscale our pandemic preparedness and end preventable deaths. Governments must get more involved in the campaign against the disease, especially to screen, as this will provide avenues for early detection, treatment and curbing its spread.
Water, Most Precious Resource
On the 21st of March, the world marked World Water Day. The day is an annual event that is celebrated to focus on the primacy of water and the need to preserve it. Water is significant for a healthy body. This is why the United Nations General Assembly designated this day in 1993, twenty-five years ago, to call attention to the water-related challenges we face.
This year, the theme for World Water Day is “Accelerating the Change to Solve the Water and Sanitation Crisis”. The quantity and quality of water that is available for human consumption today have been affected by damaged ecosystems. Now, 2.1 billion people live without safe drinking water at home; it impacts their health, education, and general livelihood.
Following this knowledge, the UN member states and agencies and various other Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have become involved in the promotion of clean water conservation and have helped focus the attention of people on all the critical issues of water. They also promote the supply of clean and purified water.
Global access to safe water, adequate sanitation, and hygiene resources reduce illness and death from disease and leads to improved health, poverty reduction, and socio-economic development. The COVID-19 pandemic has further demonstrated the urgent need for universal access to safe water, as frequent and proper handwashing with soap and water is one of the most effective actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Unfortunately, even so, many people lack access to these necessities, leaving them at risk for diseases related to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). Globally, 2.2 billion people do not have safe drinking water, 3.6 billion do not have safe sanitation services, and 2.3 billion do not have access to a handwashing facility.
Many diarrheal diseases, such as typhoid fever and cholera, spread through unsafe water and sanitation. Protecting water sources and developing and maintaining WASH systems to keep human waste out of the water, food, and environment are critical to preventing diarrheal diseases. In areas without a consistent source of safe water, people often resort to using untreated water that can make them sick.
Like many other countries, Nigeria also joined the rest of the world to commemorate 2023 World Water Day. Marking the occasion, the Federal Government, last Wednesday, lamented over worsening water-related disasters. The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Didi Walson-Jack, made the statement during a media briefing to mark the day.
The essence of commemorating World Water Day is basically to raise awareness of the poor and vulnerable populations living without access to safe and clean water, said Walson-Jack. And its objective is to galvanize action towards active response to the water crisis and seek innovative measures to improve access to potable water supply while achieving the targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goal 6 – Water and Sanitation for all by 2030.
However, the Federal Government’s statement is uninspiring, as the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund declared that about two-thirds of the population of citizens in Nigeria lacked access to potable water. Nigeria has an estimated population of about 200 million or slightly more, and two-thirds of this figure represents over 133 million persons without access to potable water across the country.
Although the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and states are investing in water, the sustainability of these investments has remained a major challenge. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, the progress is static, which is why two-thirds of the Nigerian population do not have access to potable water and that is a lot of people when compared with the population.
There is an urgent need for adequate improvement in investments, particularly given that the lack of enough access to water has massive implications for the country. Shockingly, Nigeria’s level of investment is one of the lowest in the region. The nation is less than three per cent in terms of investments, so there is still a lot more to be done.
This year’s World Water Day should galvanise the federal and state governments to create synergies by joining hands and working together. We must value every drop of water and keep our planet blue and clean. We have to make every day World Water Day. Hence, the Federal Ministry of Water Resources should promote drip irrigation systems as a way of sustainable water management in selected irrigation schemes.
It is against this backdrop that the Rivers State Government recognises water and sanitation as essential for maintaining a healthy life and environment. Both are fundamental for the socio-economic development of the state. This conviction is responsible for the intervention in improving water and sanitation coverage in the state.
Consequently, the state government, through the Port Harcourt Water Corporation (PHWC), is implementing the Urban Water Sector Reform and Port Harcourt Water Supply and Sanitation Project (UWSR & PHWSSP), and the Third National Urban Water Sector Reform Project (NUWSRP3). The project is to provide improved water and sanitation services for the entire population of Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas.
And in a short time from now, water will begin to run in homes in Port Harcourt. Already, elevated water tanks in Rumuola, Diobu & Borikiri are seen including modern treatment/chlorination plants and extensive citywide reticulation. This project is part of Governor Nyesom Wike’s programme in Rivers State and is expected to be delivered soon.
When completed, beneficiaries of the project will include over 1.5 million inhabitants of the Port Harcourt metropolitan city. The project is co-financed by the Rivers State Government (RVSG), African Development Bank (AfDB), and the World Bank (WB). Rivers’ model is worthy of emulation. States should collaborate with development partners and donors to properly execute water policies in Nigeria.
That March Stillborn Census
After a long period of indecision, Nigeria will now hold its first census in 17 years in May this year instead of April as earlier scheduled. The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, made this known to newsmen last Wednesday at the end of the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council.
The Minister explained that the decision to move the date was necessitated by the rescheduling of the gubernatorial election to March 18. He also disclosed that the Council approved a whopping N2.8 billion for the National Population Commission (NPC) to procure some software to be used for the conduct of the census.
Recall that in the July 20, 2022 editorial of this paper, we observed that the planned census initially scheduled for April 2023 was ill-timed and therefore should not have been mulled over in the first place, given that the general election had been slated for an adjoining period; moreover at a time of very significant security problems bedeviling virtually the whole country.
These situations would impact the census result adversely. Even by its acknowledgement, the NPC’s pre-census tests which were performed in some areas of the country were stymied by overwhelming safety issues in some states.
We also argued that if the present administration did not conduct the census, at least, a year before the end of its tenure, it had no reason to rush to conduct the exercise two months before exit. Expectedly, with the postponement, and the reasons adduced thereto, we have been vindicated.
It would have been inconceivable for the NPC to proceed with the process when it was apparent that the agency was yet unprepared to conduct a credible and acceptable census. To justify their lack of readiness, the NPC has just submitted and secured approval of N2.8 billion to award a contract to procure software it will use for the exercise.
We insist that even the new May date for the exercise is still unrealistic. First, the contract has to be awarded for the procurement of the software. Second, the contractor has to order and take delivery of the software. The NPC will then take delivery and begin training staff and ad-hoc personnel to be able to effectively deploy and efficiently use the software. We can conjecture that this will take not less than, at least, six months from now.
This is why we demand that the Federal Government, and indeed the NPC, should stop deceiving Nigerians on the conduct of a hitch-free census at this time. The NPC should conduct the exercise later this year or even in 2024. It was for this reason the House of Representatives advised the commission to put off the exercise to a more convenient period because of the unstable state of affairs in the country. Sadly, the commission disdained the well-intentioned advice of the House.
The horrendous security conditions are elevating concerns about the accurate count. The Federal Government should not venture on a wild goose chase. Census generally is a massive endeavour that requires a long time of organisation and planning. The truth, however, is that insecurity in the country is far more horrible than the image projected by the NPC. And given the deplorable economic condition of the nation, it is time the commission explored other means outside headcount to execute its obligation of extrapolating Nigeria’s population to intensify planning and growth.
The manual procedure being adopted by the NPC is becoming anachronistic, error-ridden, and vulnerable to manipulation. It should give way to new technologies for enumeration and data collection. According to a recent survey by the United Nations, more than 30 countries or areas are providing an option for Internet-based self-enumeration given that “new technologies contribute to improving the completeness, timeliness, and quality of census results.” That is the way forward.
Ordinarily, the plan to hold a national census would have been a welcome development. This is especially so because the planned census is coming some 17 years after the last headcount. But executing the project in May will be grossly unfitting because it will come too close to the end of the general election. The timing is wrong completely.
The government should not set innocent citizens in harm’s way for conducting a headcount. Consequently, President Muhammadu Buhari should not submit to scare tactics from the commission to authorise or discharge funds for the census. Already, the NPC management is ruing the endorsement and even anticipating that if the money required for the activity from the government is inadequate, it would get reasonable appropriation from global backers.
Clearly, the quandary at hand is a very auspicious prescription for a failure of any headcount presently, which is better circumvented than added to the many miseries that had depicted census in this country. All the earlier censuses were contentious, and it does not make any sense to carry out one just for it when all the indicators demonstrate apparent unfavourable aftermath.
The question is: Why is the NPC bent on having a census despite the odds? Is the commission out to do a good job, or just to spend the gigantic money being budgeted for the project? No doubt, a valid census is crucial for planning and development objectives for the country. But it should be executed properly and timely. The count had been put off twice in 2016 and 2018 following several controversial factors that have still not abated but intensified instead and worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We think that the Federal Government should shun the idea of a census for the next government, which should tackle insecurity first before the census. A country that is facing existential challenges cannot have as one of its priorities the conduct of a national census. The current administration should discontinue what will aggregate to misadventure and waste of scarce national resources.
What should disconcert the Buhari regime is reviving the credence of a large section of citizens in the Nigerian project, resuscitating peace in areas held by criminal elements, and dousing tension in the country to foster favourable buy-in and participation. A national census now is necessarily not a preference; its conduct is entirely not feasible.
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