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COVID-19 think tank recommends measures as Nigeria scrambles to secure livelihoods

…local epidemiological data show rising new infections curve

Nigeria is scrambling for solutions to the new normal that has befallen the world thanks to the coronavirus virus disease pandemic that started in China seven months ago. A COVID-19 think tank has proposed a collection of recommendations to facilitate the gradual reopening of the economy to secure livelihoods and prevent further job losses.

COVID-19 epidemiology data from Nigeria Centre for Disease Control show the number of new infections rising. A sign that the curve is yet to flatten and that the spread of the virus has not been brought under control. This means more caution is needed in reopening the economy. This view has been adopted by the ANAP Foundation COVID-19 Think Tank, which was established on March 22, 2020, to help Nigeria respond to the pandemic.

On June 13, 501 new confirmed cases and 8 deaths were recorded in Nigeria. Till date, 15, 682 cases have been confirmed, 5, 101 cases have been discharged and 407 deaths have been recorded in 35 states and the Federal Capital Territory. There has been an average of 421 cases daily in the last 14 days as against an average of 21 cases in early April.

Nigeria has limited options and the clock is ticking. Epidemiological and evidence-based exit strategies out of lockdowns include waiting for herd immunity to take hold. This is a situation where 60 – 80 percent of the population becomes infected, and the natural transmission of infection ceases. But no country, not even the worst hit on the globe, has achieved this. Nigeria cannot hope to attain this either.

The other possibility is to work towards a scenario where new infections from an infected patient fall to 1 or less than 1. Again this will not happen until the infection has peaked, the curve flattened and transmission risk tremendously reduced in the population through a combination of strategies. Nigeria is yet to achieve this milestone from the epidemiology evidence the NCDC provides.

Of course, Nigeria could also wait for a widely available vaccine. Despite optimistic projections to the contrary, the prospects for this could take up to 1 to 2 years.

After carefully examining the options available based on epidemiological evidence the Anap Foundation COVID-19 Think Tank has recommended measures adapted to Nigeria’s unique conditions. “Key options should focus on messaging for prevention, risk mitigation and behaviour change; these must be our “vaccine” for now,” the Think Tank said in its “Occasional Paper 01” sighted by BusinessDay.

In detail, this means the government at all levels, civil society and all relevant partners and stakeholders need to invest heavily in Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) interventions to bring the public to a shared understanding of the risks and repercussions of COVID-19 infection. These investments involve time and money with behaviour change scientists leading the charge.

 Needed also are clear strategies to build a high level of trust among the people, and between the people and government institutions to aid adherence to official recommendations and guidelines for COVID-19 prevention. Trust is the currency of public health.

The Think Tank strongly recommends a review of the national containment guidelines, particularly with regard to religious and large indoor social gatherings. “It is our opinion that lifting the suspension on these (as recently announced by Presidential Task Force) was premature; without the successful buy-in of the entire community for physical distancing, wearing of mouth and nose cloth coverings and general hygiene etiquette.”

An important component of these recommendations is the decentralisation of the national response in favour of streamlined partnerships between the State governments, private health sector, national and international non-governmental organisations and development partners in various components of the response.

This is to include partnering for testing, contact tracing, isolation, treatment, surveillance, training of health staff, and community mobilisation and empowerment.

“We must improve on our testing numbers and our result turnaround time in all 36 States of the Federation and so Cross River and Kogi States must take steps to catch up with the rest of the country,” the Think Tank stated in the Occasional Paper.

Nigeria’s victory against COVID-19 will depend on both individual conduct and that of the collective.

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