OUR DEAR GOVERNORS, IT IS NOT YET TIME TO START LIFTING THE BAN ON PUBLIC GATHERINGS INCLUDING MARKETS, MOSQUES AND CHURCHES
The Health Sector Reform Coalition receives with shock, concern and fear, the lifting of bans on some gatherings including Friday prayers and Easter services, by some states. The lockdown in the FCT, Lagos and similar decision by some governors across the country was a welcome development. It is important for containing the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), avoiding the high number of deaths that might follow and the disastrous effects on the health system and economy, as we are seeing with countries like US, Italy, Spain, UK, amongst others.
HSRC with its membership of over 100 non-governmental actors, working to improve health care and development across every state in Nigeria, recognises and respects the importance of worship and religious celebrations to us Nigerians. We acknowledge and value the role of religious leaders and faith-based organizations in providing spiritual support through faith for their followers in a healthy and safe environment. HSRC further appreciates the socio-economic difficulties being faced by our people over the lockdown across the country.
Unfortunately, options are limited for now in the best ways to fight the spread. Scientific evidence and experience from developed and developing countries reinforce that avoiding crowd, physical distancing, handwashing and respiratory hygiene are still the best ways to prevent the spread and associated deaths. With the high number of people living in poverty, high prevalence of chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes (underlying diseases) and very weak health systems, it will be catastrophic if the virus spreads widely in Nigeria.
Data from the WHO and Johns Hopkins shows that 1.6 million people have tested positive and more than 95 thousand have died from COVID-19 between December 2019 to April 9, 2020. While majority of infections and deaths have been in developed countries, both infections and deaths are also rising in Africa. Cases in Nigeria have multiplied from one to 288 in six weeks with seven deaths. Number of states with established cases have risen from one to 17 within the same period.
Trends from other countries shows that without drastic measures such as maintaining lockdowns and distancing, the numbers can easily rise exponentially over a short time. Between February 27 and March 27, the US went from 54 to 100,522 cases while Italy went from 593 to 66,414 in one month!
Because our testing is grossly inadequate, the true numbers of cases in Nigeria may be hidden. It is highly likely that community spread is happening because up to 85% of the infected may be asymptomatic yet capable of transmitting the virus. Our containment is still in the nascent stage, this is not the time to relax our guard. The couple of weeks are very critical in containing an upsurge in the number of confirmed cases.
As the Health Sector Reform Coalition of Nigeria, we:
A. Implore our governors to cancel all plans or reverse the directives to lift the ban on religious and other gatherings until the NCDC and Federal Ministry of Health advise otherwise – No matter the pressure, this is not the time for populism.
B. Call on the federal government and state governments to increase the delivery of economic mitigation packages to households and individuals that are in need, to reduce the pressure on people to go out for their daily living.
C. Ask all Nigerians to PLEASE continue to listen to the advice of health experts represented by NCDC and WHO at this critical time. Nothing is more important than staying alive
Furthermore, we need to remind ourselves of the following:
i. COVID-19 (Coronavirus) does not go to sleep at night, market days, Fridays or Sundays
ii. Infected people without any symptoms can still transmit the virus
iii. Over 2500 infections in France was linked to a single religious gathering while about 230 infections in South Korea were linked to a religious group where members continued gathering
iv. Crowd gathering should be avoided, and at all time maintain at least 2 m or 6 feet or two arm’s length of distance between people
v. Religious and faith institutions are encouraged to explore means of conducting faith activities remotely/virtually (as long as required) and provide psychosocial and mental health support and resilience
vi. Cloth face masks might help reduce the spread by those who are infected but does not fully protect healthy people from getting infected, so continue to practice hand washing, respiratory hygiene, physical distancing and crowd avoidance even when wearing a face mask
vii. Clean/disinfectant surfaces such as doorknobs, handles, to remove the virus
viii. Actively promote attitudes and behaviours to uphold the dignity and rights of all people, and counter all forms stigma and discrimination associated with the virus
ix. Even if you have good immunity, you can spread it to children, the elderly and other family members who are vulnerable and more likely to die from COVID-19
x. States that currently have zero recorded cases are still not safe and closing state borders is not enough
As the custodian of power in the state, necessity is placed on the governors to make the right decision that will protect the citizens. This is the time to make that difficult sacrifice to protect our future. Our governors and other political leaders should be seen to be leading.
Nigerian, please stay at home and stay alive!!!
Signed: Dcn. Mike Egboh and Dr. Chizoba Wonodi
(HSRC COVID-19 Response Task Team Co-chairs)