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The COVID-19 pandemic is taking its toll on all health services in the country as the Federal Government says outpatient visits to hospitals nationwide have reduced by half.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who stated this on Thursday at the press briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, said that latest statistics obtained by the Federal Government showed that pregnant women and other outpatients’ visits to hospitals had dropped by half.
He also said immunisation services had reduced by half.
Ehanire, however, said the gradual easing of the lockdown in the country would address the problems.
Although Nigeria recorded its COVID-19 index case on February 27, as of Wednesday, no fewer than 4, 971 persons had been diagnosed with the deadly virus.
Also, out of the figure, 1,070 patients have successfully treated and discharged, while 164 have died.
The virus has killed pregnant women in states such as Ekiti, Jigawa and Ogun. On April 22, a 29-year-old pregnant woman, who sneaked into Ekiti State from Lagos State, died of the virus.
On May 3, the Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta confirmed that the virus killed a pregnant woman in the hospital on May 1.
On May 4, the Jigawa State Commissioner for Health, Abba Zakari, said a pregnant woman died of coronavirus at the Dutse Isolation Centre.
Outpatient visits drop from 4m to 2m, antenatal from 1.3 million to 655,000
At the PTF press briefing on Thursday, Ehanire quoted figures from the National Health Management Information System.
He said that while outpatient visits to hospitals dropped from four million to about two million, antenatal visits dropped from 1.3 million to 655,000.
Skilled birth attendance falls from 158,374 to less than 99,000
The minister said for skilled birth attendance, there was a “drop from 158,374 to less than 99,000 while immunisation services also reduced to about half.”
The minister said the ministries of health and the Federal Capital Territory met on Thursday and agreed on the need to ensure the delivery of routine services in all hospitals in Nigeria.
Immunisation services reduced by about half
He noted, “Latest statistics from the NHMIS indicate that outpatient visits dropped from four million to about two million; antenatal visits from 1.3million to 655,000. Also, skilled birth attendance from 158,374 to less than 99,000 while immunisation services reduced to about half.
“All these failings have yet undetermined consequences, which the easing of the lockdown should hopefully address. However, easing restrictions has to be balanced by citizens complying with protective and prophylactic advisories, and to encourage relatives, friends, neighbours and customers to do the same.”
The health minister reiterated that the government would engage state commissioners of health and their workers through an information and communication technology platform to retrain health workers.
He said, “The Federal Ministry of Health and its agencies, particularly the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, have scaled up training in infection prevention and control, case finding and management, emergency patient transport systems, surveillance outbreak response management analysis system.”
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No money for COVID-19 research, FG tells researchers
During the question-and-answer session, the health minister said individuals and groups which believed that they could research into the cure for COVID-19 should go ahead as the Federal Ministry of Health would not stop such a venture.
Ehanire clarified that the ministry would not give money to those carrying out or intending to carry out such researches.
He said, “We encourage all those who think they have an answer to the COVID-19 problem to go ahead to do the research they want to do. We have universities and research centres and we want them to go ahead. The ministry itself is just a regulator. So, it is not to be imagined that the ministry is trying to stop anybody.
“But certainly, the ministry will not start giving anybody money, unless if there are organisations that give grants to do research.”
The minister said Nigerians, who returned from the United States and United Kingdom, were still in 14-day quarantine.
Furthermore, the health minister said, “As regards the deaths in Kano, I can report that the so-called unexplained deaths were not only in Kano, but they have also been recorded or mentioned in connection with some other states. And the team that left for Kano is looking at all these and creating a protocol and a system to look into these unexplained deaths.”
FG partners northern states to utilise Almajirai schools
The Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, at the press conference, said that the Federal Ministry of Education was working with state governors in the North on how they can maximise the Tsangaya schools built for the Almajirai.
The minister said, “On the Tsangaya schools, over 157 such schools were built a few years back (by the Goodluck Jonathan administration) and within the first part of this administration, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, began the process of getting different state governments and Islamic scholars to take over the schools.”
Airlifting Madagascar’s solution not our priority – PTF
The Chairman of the task force and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, said Nigeria did not order for the Madagascar herbal mixture for the cure of coronavirus.
He said the African country sent the herbal drug to other countries on the continent out of brotherly love in order to contain the pandemic.
Mustapha said, “Nigeria did not ask Madagascar for any solution. The Madagascar government decided to airlift the quantity meant for African countries. That of West Africa was airlifted to Guinea Bissau.
“The impression out there is as if we abandoned homegrown solution and we are looking for Madagascar’s solution. It was taken in the spirit of brotherly love to Guinea Bissau.”
The SGF, however, said airlifting the solution was not a priority of the task force as there were other issues before it.
He stated, “We have to make efforts to airlift it out of Guinea Bissau, but there are no flights, so there are so many things we need to consider. If we are freighting it through air cargo, it has its process.
“It is not our priority for now. There are other things we are dealing with to make sure we contain the spread in our nation. We will do that but that does not in anyway downplay what we have asked our scientists to do.”
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Wearing of mask not optional – SGF
The SGF warned that wearing of face masks was compulsory for all citizens, urging states, the Federal Capital Territory and law enforcement agencies to enforce it as stated.
“Because we are persuasive does not mean there is an option to it. It was part of the declaration that was signed by Mr President. Everything listed there has a force of law,” he said.
The PTF chairman lamented that evaluation of the implementation of the guidelines on the easing of the lockdown showed a high level of noncompliance.
He said further recommendations would be submitted to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) before the second phase would commence.
He said, “I must, however, state that our initial evaluation points firmly in the direction of a high level of noncompliance which, as we have often warned, portends grave self-inflicted danger. This fact has made it imperative for me to re-echo our call for taking personal responsibility.
“You must abide by the guidelines (wash your hands as frequently as necessary; use hand sanitizers; maintain social distancing, use a face mask or covering in public places). In addition, you must comply with the ban on interstate travels, avoid crowded places, observe the curfew and do all you can to stay home and stay safe.”
PTF makes case for farmers
The task force chairman stressed the need to promote and sustain chain of food production and distribution, urging states and security agencies to allow farmers access to their farms.
The SGF commended health workers for being dutiful and rising to the challenge, saying a total of 1,071 Nigerians had already been discharged from the various isolation and treatment centres.
Research budget not enough
The PTF National Coordinator, Dr Sani Aliyu, said the task force could not fund all the research bodies due to its low budget, urging researchers to source grants from donor agencies.
Aliyu said, “We have a small amount of money in our budget for research but research institutions primarily get their money through grants.
“What we have in the PTF budget will be insufficient to cater for every research body but certainly we have partners that will continue to make sure they submit quality applications that will allow them compete in the world of researches.”
COVID-19 can survive in hot weather
The PTF coordinator said the disease could spread rapidly in a hot weather country like Nigeria.
He said, ‘No matter how sunny or humid the weather is, anybody can get coronavirus. Nigeria has recorded about 5000 cases as of today irrespective of the fact that we are a hot country. There is no scientific evidence to show that coronavirus cannot survive in hot weather.”
He also advised Nigerians to stop stigmatisation of people with COVID-19. He added that research had shown that those that recovered had an antibody that could protect them.
Almajirai movement to South worsening COVID-19 spread – Senators
Meanwhile, some senators have raised the alarm that the uncontrolled movement of some northern children, popularly known as Almajirai to the southern part of the country, is worsening the spread of COVID-19 in the South.
They urged governors of the southern part of the country to put more stringent security measures in place to check the mass exodus of the northern children into their domain.
They said the movement of Almajirai to the South was capable of frustrating government efforts at curtailing the spread of coronavirus.
The senators spoke in separate interviews with one of our correspondents in Abuja.
The Senator representing the Rivers East Senatorial District in the National Assembly, George Sekibo, noted with concern that the activities of the Almajirai contravened the Quarantine Act.
He said, “The movement of Almajirai from the North to South is against the COVID-19 regulations especially the Presidential order banning interstate travelling.
“If that is so, it becomes very wrong for some people from Adamawa, Kano, Kaduna or anywhere, to find themselves through whatever means, in Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi and Rivers states.
“The appropriate punishments for defaulters are contained in the Quarantine Act. For me, any defaulter should go through the due process of the law and be given the appropriate punishment.
“They (Almajirai) have always been moving like that, it became public knowledge simply because there is a lockdown. We wouldn’t have known, if there is no lockdown.
“For them, they don’t listen to radio and television. They don’t even know that COVID – 19 is in existence. Nothing concerns them.
“They have leaders. Their leaders are of the same tribe with them. They should stop them from moving to other states at this critical period.
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“They are lawless and they are violating the law on interstate movement. I have not travelled to Rivers State, where I come from since the announcement of the lockdown and I don’t plan to visit the place soon so that I will not be quarantined.
“I will encourage any state government to start arresting those northern young men who are travelling up and down and send them to court and jail them. At such an emergency period, we must be orderly.
“We must follow regulations. We must follow the prescription from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. The figure of infected persons is going up because people are now behaving the way they want.
“There will be a catastrophe in this country in the next few weeks if the trend is not checked. I advocate a proper lockdown so that everybody will be able to stay at home for 28 days and we will be able to clean up.”
The Senator representing Oyo North Senatorial District, Abdulfatai Buhari, advised people to form vigilante groups, adding that security agents should remain vigilant to guard against infiltrations.
Also the Senator representing Benue South, Abba Moro, urged the security agencies to ensure proper enforcement of the presidential order on lockdown to minimise the spread of COVID – 19.
He said, “The primary responsibility of government is to protect lives and property of the people. Government should rise to the occasion and end insecurity by giving security operatives the necessary marching order.”