BY LEVI JOHNSON
Dr Osagie Ehanire, the Minister of Health has on Thursday predicted that COVID-19 cases in Nigeria would increase, urging residents to brace up as a result of the easing of the lockdown nationwide.
According to him, lifting of the ban on interstate travels would increase the spread of the virus across the country.
He explained that all government hospitals in the FCT will become COVID-19 sample collection sites in order to reduce bottlenecks to testing and improve efficiency in response.
Ehanire, who spoke during the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, in Abuja, said: “The COVID-19 statistics are expected to rise further with improved testing, but also as a sign that COVID-19 is actually expanding faster than our systems are handing it.
“The Federal Ministry of Health’s plan will be to focus more on minimizing fatalities by prioritizing preemptive admission to hospital for medical observation, all persons who test positive for COVID-19 and meet our definition of vulnerability, even if they do not yet have classical symptoms.
“These include the elderly, diabetics, asthmatics and persons in treatment for chronic infections and conditions. This population group will also be targeted for risk communication and engagement to avoid nonessential travel and exposure to risk factors outside the home.
“All countries, including Nigeria, rely heavily on the cooperation and collaboration with citizens, especially in implementing simple non-pharmaceutical measures, like wearing face masks when outside the house, avoiding crowds and gatherings of more than 20 people and simple hygiene measures, which have been proven to reduce risks of transmission.
“The success or lack thereof, of response is, therefore, a factor, not just of national, but also of subnational and citizen efforts. Hence the need to again call on all States, LGAs and communities, to know they have a critical role to play and that their engagement matters.”
The Minister added, “With the lifting of the ban on interstate travel, the assumption should not be that danger is over and it is safe to move about.
“The risks of being infected are higher during travel, so I strongly advise we do not embark on non-essential travel. This is particularly so for the elderly and those designated as high risk.
“Many countries made adherence to rules not only mandatory; some even imposed penalties for non-compliance. The exploding figures we see now would be considerably less if most citizens complied.
“The benefits of compliance are such that we should each and all, be encouraging each other and ensuring that we obey and remind others to obey, without requiring policing. It is a civic responsibility and not just governments. We can save lives by enduring the little inconvenience of wearing a mask and avoiding travel that need not be.”
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Dr Ehanire said that Ministry of Health will address complaints by both citizens and hospital managers, of long delays in receiving COVID-19 test results, at treatment centres in Abuja especially, which disrupt smooth running and delay the commencement of treatment.
“I have directed the deployment and activation of GeneXpert machines to treatment centres at National Hospital Abuja and University of Abuja Teaching Hospital so that they can now conduct testing on site. The GeneXpert machine allows results within one hour.
“Over the last few days, I have also received reports of very sick persons being rejected at our hospitals. Many have died outside or on the way, having been denied attention in more than one hospital.
“It is not acceptable that persons lose their lives to health conditions which could possibly have been cured, or may not even have been COVID-19 related.
“It is to address this subject that, the Hon. Minister of FCT and I had a meeting today with the Medical Directors of both Federal and FCT government hospitals in the FCT catchment area, where it was emphasized that no patient be denied treatment or rejected, and that all health workers will be trained and retrained on Infection Prevention and Control and issued personal protective equipment (PPEs) and materials required for the discharge of their duties.
“In addition to this, all government hospitals in FCT will become COVID-19 sample collection sites, so that walk-in cases can have samples taken to be forwarded to Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for testing. This assures users and caregivers of reduced bottlenecks and improved efficiency in our response. We intend to scale this up to other states of the Federation.”