The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) has urged the federal government to direct, through the Presidential Task Force (PTF), an investigation into the coronavirus-free status of Kogi and Cross Rivers States.
The doctors said an investigation into the status and management response to the coronavirus by the two state governments is in the interest of safeguarding Nigeria’s public health, and to recommend appropriate remedial intervention if necessary, to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Both states are the only two yet to confirm any case of the virus, a record widely disputed by health authorities and federal officials who believe governments in Kogi and Cross Rivers are discouraging tests for people with symptoms of COVID-19.
As of Monday morning, Nigeria recorded 4, 399 infections from over 20, 000 tests conducted in a country of nearly 200 million populace since the emergence of the pneumonia-like disease in late February.
Health experts say the true spread and toll to the contagion is vastly understated due to under-testing as the country is besieged with multiple testing challenges, including delays in the collection of samples, and submission of results with many states not working in sync with the national response strategy.
Despite being surrounded by states with confirmed cases of the virus, the government in Kogi has at least once scuttled efforts by Nigeria’s infectious disease agency, NCDC, to coordinate COVID-19 testing, alleging that there is a plot by unnamed persons to ensure Kogi records cases of the virus.
On Thursday, a delegation comprising officials of NCDC and the Department of Hospital Services of the Federal Ministry of Health had to flee the state for fear of being quarantined by the Kogi State Government.
The delegation, which set out on the mission to ascertain the claim by the state to be COVID-19 free and to boost its testing capacity, was reportedly not received with open arms, a development that further pitted state authorities against federal officials.
The NMA, in a statement on Sunday, said the development has made it difficult for the NCDC to discharge its duties.
The association said it vehemently decried the stance of the governments of Kogi and Cross River to NCDC’s advisory.
“The NCDC (Establishment) Act 2018 empowers the NCDC to lead the national response in disease outbreaks and public health emergencies. It is also to coordinate diverse kinds of feedback thereof,” the statement signed by NMA’s president, Francis Faduyile said.
“However, the NCDC has been unable to discharge these functions in some states of the Federation. Apart from threats and in some instances, prevention from collecting and testing samples of suspected cases of COVID-19; the pronouncements of some political leaders constitute outright interference in NCDC’s coordination of case treatment for effectiveness and learning lessons.
Kogi and Cross Rivers maintained their COVID-19 free status despite being flagged by NCDC Director-General, Chikwe Ihekweazu, for turning in a very low number of samples for testing.
The doctor’s association in Kogi had expressed fears that the consequences of not testing people for the COVID-19 may be too enormous to deal with.
Mr Faduyile said while it would be a welcome news for a ‘no-positive-case’ status in any state or FCT, “every state must ensure that it is following the testing guideline so that no cases are missed, as that would seriously imperil the whole national response to controlling COVID-19 pandemic.”
Easing of lockdowns
In the statement titled “preparing for the worst case scenario”, the NMA said it reviewed the policies, programs, and activities implemented so far in the management of the COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria and came up with some solutions.
On easing of lockdowns amid rising numbers of infections, the NMA maintained that the solution is not to loosen the lockdown “prematurely”, but for government to provide robust and widened palliatives’ policy and its practical and urgent implementation.
“The public education and awareness campaign about COVID-19 must go beyond the state capitals in the rural areas. The NMA also proffers that government uses the period of the lockdown to increase capacity and capability of doctors and health workers, and ramp up population testing which is the only reliable barometer to predict community transmission and prevalence”, the release read.
Inadequate PPE and healthcare workers abandoning their duty posts
The NMA said it is dismayed that doctors and other health workers still do not have adequate PPEs.
“Therefore, she has unequivocally advised her members and other healthcare workers in the country to avoid attending to suspected or confirmed cases of COVD-19 if they do not wear the appropriate PPE in the interest of the personnel and their families, and the wider society.
“The PTF must direct the FMOH and NCDC and other employers of doctors and health workers, to make arrangements for the provision of an adequate supply of PPEs at the point and time of need in the campaign against COVID-19. Out of stocks is preventable. To this end, NMA opts for the local production of PPEs in a nation where textile materials are not in short supply.”
The doctor’s association further demanded the implementation of special risk allowance and insurance for health workers. It appealed to the Federal Government to call on the State governments to make public the incentives in the form of Risk/Hazard/inducement allowances and life insurance policies they are offering their healthcare employees.
On tax Exemption on Allowances during COVID-19, the association called for an exemption from PAYE Tax, explaining that any taxation at this time would contradict the government’s laudable spirit of incentivizing healthcare workers to deliver service needed to defeat COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.
On the Infectious Diseases Control Bill 2020, the NMA called for the withdrawal of the Bill entirely and redrafting it, to remove any existing and future doubts in the people and public outcry against specific provisions of the Bill.