Many poor Nigerians can’t afford to fall ill, much less survive the coronavirus pandemic or a total lockdown to contain it; it would cost them their lives. After years of neglect and underfunding, Nigeria’s poor healthcare will be sorely strained as the number of infected cases rises. There are not enough equipment like ventilators, bed spaces in intensive care units, anaesthetists, and nurses. (New York, a city of 8.6 million people has seen demand for intensive care beds spike to 40,000).
So far in Nigeria only one person has died from the contagious disease, a 67 year-old who had other health complications. Persons aged 65 and above are higher risk of severe illness and need to be hospitalized. This doesn’t mean younger Nigerians need not worry; a strong immune system, hygienic habits (frequent hand washing with a sanitizer in the absence of water and soap) and other precautionary measures are the best safeguards in the absence of a functioning healthcare system.
Over 152 million Nigerians live below $1 (N380) a day and cannot afford nutritional food that would boost their immune systems against virus like covid-19. What’s more, for Nigerians who can afford to treat malaria, it is likely an out-of-pocket expense. Few Nigerians have health insurance and the brain drain of medical professionals adds to the risk of a misdiagnosis – under equipped hospitals and frequent power cuts are some of the reasons doctors are leaving the county in droves.
Access to quality healthcare is a luxury for more than 87 million Nigerians estimated to be extremely poor. A hundred million malaria cases are recorded in Nigeria every year, out of which an estimated 300,000 deaths are recorded. Nigeria bears a disproportionately high share of the global disease burden, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Even though most of the world has eliminated malaria, it remains a leading cause of death in Nigeria. Because of poverty a preventable disease is a death sentence.
Most Nigerians earn their living daily. Few have any income left after spending on essentials such as food. Hence social distancing and self-isolation, the best precautionary measures against a flooding hospitals and overwhelming medical professionals, are synonymous to a death sentence. The informal sector, which is at least41 percent of the Nigerian economy, largely relies on face-to-face interactions to complete transactions.
Many will be caught between staying at home or hitting the streets to hustle, Disobedience to directives to avoid large gatherings contributed to rise in the number cases in Italy. With these set of people out on the streets, the spread of coronavirus in Nigeria could be rapid. As at Tuesday evening, Nigeria had recorded 42 cases of covid-19, 39 active cases and 2 discharged cases. At this rate, we are completely unprepared to deal with a major outbreak. And which is why the Lagos Ministry of Health has asked attendants of the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards to self-isolate after an infected case was confirmed.
But the resilient Nigerian spirit must prevail. Our health system is broken but not our humanity and sense of solidarity. Through collaboration we can overcome this ordeal. Thus we highly commend the initiative of GTBank, to set up a 100-bed intensive care centre for coronavirus cases. Larger doses of such a gesture, an example of timely response and exemplary corporate social responsibility, are what we need now; not bickering and blaming. Many more private individuals and companies must join in combating the pandemic threatening the health and economic prosperity of Nigeria.
In these trying times, all hands must be on deck to strengthen the Nigeria healthcare system to fight covid-19.