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COVID-19: Nigeria need to optimize testing to flatten curve of pandemic

Early January 2020, I remember hearing across the different news outlets both in Nigeria and overseas on the devastating effects of the Coronavirus especially in respect to people slumping all over the street of Wuhan, China where the virus was first detected.

But just like many other people, I paid seemingly less attention to the health implications of the deadly virus. I was merely reading about the virus from a professional/medical point of view neglecting to take needed precautions or even preparing in the eventuality of it being transmitted into Nigeria or being declared a global health emergency.

I was less concerned despite the fact that this was around the Chinese New Year celebration and in over past two decades, Nigeria has seen a huge population of Chinese citizens in Nigeria, nor the fact that many Nigerians travel to China for business or to study.

For unexplainable reasons, I totally ignored the glaring signs. On the 15th of March, I was scheduled to travel out of the country via British Airways, I had packed my bags and my husband drove me to the airport. It was not until I got to the airport that the chaos began to register.

Flights were being cancelled; texts sent to intending travelers to reschedule flights. There were whisperings that flights could not land in the United States, while some countries were limiting travels, some were totally shutting travelers out, leaving people stranded.

The chaos was palpable. I took one glance at my husband, we shook our heads and immediately headed to the airline desk to choose another date. Choose another date? Meaning I still had not digested the gravity of the problem. Its five months now since then and I can tell that I never prepared my mind nor wrapped my head around dealing with this pandemic for this long.

In my opinion, a few people who had COVID-19 was due to carelessness or ignorance. Tinkering through narratives from families who lost loved ones, It can be debated that Corona Virus (COVID-19) may have arrived Nigeria much earlier than we officially tracked our first case.

One may wonder, now that we are living through the sudden entrant of COVID-19, what next? Surely there is life after COVID-19. Although this has been forecasted differently from different quarters, one thing remains clear, life will never be the same as before.

One by one, we must determine for ourselves what this deviation from normal means. Could it be total or partial deviation? Either way, life must surely move on. Now is the beginning to the end of the journey. You either choose to be optimistic or not at this end.

Anyone who wants to see the end of this journey must begin now to stitch in time bearing in mind that human race had experienced and lived through other pandemics caused by diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis, the bubonic plague, the Spanish flu and the most recently, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

While these pandemics claimed its toll of deaths, human race always came out stronger despite the significant protocols adopted which may have altered our behavior, values, lives in order to stay safe from the virus and keep the spread under control.

Many people after the lockdown jumped out to go back to their places of work, worship centers and some even to meet up with friends and have drinks before they were hit with the realization that COVID-19 was not going away anytime soon but rather people have been charged with the responsibility to curtail the spread of the virus to avoid living in fear.

Keeping the spread under control is the journey towards living after the pandemic and consequently preventing a second wave.this was basically what governments tried to do during lockdown. But then lockdowns were not sustainable as this plunged most countries into recession.

To keep the rate of transmission low, it is required that we follow a list of protocols according to World Health Organizations(who), which include; wear a face mask, keep physical distance and observe some hygienic activities like washing of hands regularly, disinfecting surfaces, sneezing on the elbow.

Another intervention to keep the spread under control is through vaccine and prescription drugs for preventative contraction and for curing of those who have the virus to save them from death and transferring it to others, respectively.

However, medical interventions like vaccine and drugs require multi-steps, strict developmental processes which take years to assure safety. Also, there will be trial phases, logistics and supply chain challenges to consider before these medicaments can get across the globe.

It was reported sometime in March 2020, to expedite developments, WHO had instituted solidarity trials across ten countries enrolling thousands of people infected with COVID-19 to assess treatment with four already existing anti-viral compounds with the most promise of efficacy.

As of August 2020, many biotech firms, drug companies and research institutions have developed potential anti-viral therapies like Favipiravir, Remdesivir, Lopinavir, and likes. There have also been claims of unorthodox and herbal treatment for COVID-19.

Let us be reminded that in February 2020, the WHO said it did not expect a vaccine against SARS-COV2 – the causative virus for COVID-19 to become available in less than 18 months, and conservative estimates of time needed to prove a safe, effective vaccine is about 12 months (early 2021).

Dr Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, while testifying before the United States House Select Subcommittee said he does not believe the Virus would disappear because it is such a highly transmissible virus. Therefore, people need to concentrate on keeping safe and not throwing caution to the wind and waiting for the virus to go away for life after COVID-19.

There are talks of a second wave emerging in some countries with China still in the list. Even though the numbers are low, governments are building systems, and operations to ensure that the second wave is less devastating than the first.

How fast governments can conduct testing, isolate those infected to prevent them from infecting others will help keep the spread low. Countries need to optimize this flattened curve and get organized to prevent a second wave. On individual level, we need to implement the social preventative measures on the long term while the search for vaccine and drugs is on-going.

Holistically, it is dependent on the public to determine a life after this pandemic by keeping it under control enough for life to carry on. The pandemic like similar disruptions will only bring about changes and deviations from the norm.

When HIV was found to be transmitted through sexual intercourse, people were advised to wear protections during sexual intercourse, keep to one sexual partner and change lifestyle. Corona Virus will not be any different. We will get used to having the virus around and adjust our lives to avoid the risk of contracting the virus.

From China and South Korea to Iran and Italy, while the novel Corona Virus continues to put a heavy strain on entire cities across the globe with flights and public events getting canceled, borders shut, global trade slowing down, and anxiety heightening, humanity will emerge victorious over this virus at the end. It will be yet another pandemic dusted.

Take for instance smallpox disease. A viral disease said to have a death risk of up to 30% on contraction of the virus, transmitted between people and through contaminated objects was globally eradicated in 1980. HIV on the other hand, in many parts of the world has become a chronic disease in which progression to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is increasingly rare.

Embracing this reality is crucial for people taking responsibility on protecting themselves and others from the virus. The question is how much and how fast we will take the measures necessary to minimize the damage. In time, we will have therapeutics, we will have vaccines.

However, till then, the protective measures must continue; masks, physical distancing, hygiene, and other social preventative protocols. Like other viral pandemics before COVID-19, humans will face and implement the needed changes for continuing life after the pandemic.

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