• Monday, June 24, 2024
businessday logo


COVID-19: Protect and save lives, wear a mask today

Untitled design – 2020-08-24T172118.387

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (PTF-COVID-19) instituted several public health measures to slow the spread of the virus in Nigeria. The discussion on the wearing of face masks or face coverings has varied across many countries. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) was quite swift in recommending the use of face masks in addition to physical, in April while lockdowns were in place. In South Africa, the wearing of masks was made compulsory when their partial lockdown was lifted in May, while countries like the USA and UK have dithered in putting in place mandates for the wearing of face masks.

It would have been expected that the initial face mask recommendations in Nigeria would have led to behaviour modifications, embedding the habit of face mask wearing. However, as the federal government eased the lockdown measures, and as the economy gradually reopened, there is has been poor adherence to the wearing of face masks in public, and in situations where physical distancing may be difficult.

To date, COVID-19 has claimed nearly a thousand lives in Nigeria and the number of confirmed cases continues to rise. In the absence of a vaccine, it is important that members of the public continue to adhere to the public health advisories, maintaining physical distance, avoiding large gatherings, washing hands frequently and wearing face masks in public to reduce the the spread of the virus. These new habits now have to be part of our new norm.

Why should you wear a mask?

According to the Digital Health Lab of Meedan, a non-profit social technology company, the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets released when people speak, cough, sneeze or in some cases, sing. This further emphasisies the importance of face masks especially in settings where people cannot be 6ft or 2 metres apart.

This is particularly important as studies have shown that the majority of the people who have COVID-19 will show mild or no symptoms of the virus. These asymptomatic people are still capable of unknowingly spreading the virus to others. They are risking the lives of people who may develop severe complications, especially people in vulnerable groups who are above the age of 60 or have underlying health conditions. These individuals account for the largest share of COVID-19 deaths.

It is important for Nigerians to understand that a mask offers the wearer and others protection, as when people are speaking or coughing and not wearing a face mask, they are exposing others nearby to respiratory droplet that could be carrying the virus and if a mask was worn, then exposure would have been reduced.

In line with the guidance given, the wearing of face masks alone will not protect against COVID-19, but must be combined with physical distancing, handwashing, respiratory hygiene, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and other advice from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). In addition, masks with valves or vents are not recommended for use, as they allow for respiratory droplets from the wearer to be expelled from the mask.

Should you wear a face shield or mask?

The compulsory use of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 led to the rise in popularity of face shields, leading to a trend in the use of face shields in place of masks. However, there is currently no evidence on the effectiveness of face shields in preventing COVID-19 when used alone. If you must use a face shield, use it in combination with a face mask, for effective protection. You should not completely trust a face shield to protect you from the virus.

How should you care for and handle your mask?

Cloth masks if made properly, are a convenient and affordable substitute to medical masks because they are reusable. It is however important that cloth masks are properly washed and stored. Before wearing a clean mask, wash your hands with soap and running water or rub an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. After each use, wash the mask immediately with soap and allow to dry completely in the sun. Before re-use, iron the mask. Also, your mask should cover the nose and mouth completely, ensuring it fits with no open gaps. It is wrong to wear your mask below the chin or nose as it may not be serving its purpose in that regard.


The just-concluded World Mask Week (August 7–14), with all its fanfare aimed to inspire a global movement to encourage people across the world to wear masks in public to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Nigeria joined the global campaign to sensitise people on the importance of wearing masks to slow down the spread of COVID-19 using #MaskOnNaija. Beyond the week-long movement, Nigerians need to understand that until a COVID-19 vaccine that can stop the spread of the virus is produced, wearing a mask is one of the best lines of defence to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the virus.

Despite the advisories, adherence to recommendation for the wearing of face masks remains low. There is a perception that people might not fully appreciate the risk they are exposing themselves and others too. It is easy to understand that seven months into the virus, people want to return back to their previous lives and might not want a constant reminder that a virus is still lurking. While hand washing and physical distancing might not be as hard to put into practice, the wearing of a face mask is more intrusive and so has been met with greater resistance.

By wearing a mask, you are taking responsibility and sending a powerful message of solidarity to those around you that, ‘we are all in this together’ just as the Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) said at the beginning of the outbreak,“How soon we can go back to our normal lives, will be determined by how much we wear masks correctly, wash our hands and maintain physical distance”. It is in all our enlightened best interest to each play our part in stopping the spread of COVID-19 by wearing a face mask.

Atinuke Akande-Alegbe is Communications Manager ([email protected]), and Gabriel Oke is the Programme Coordinator ([email protected]), both at Nigeria Health Watch