When the Covid-19 pandemic berthed in Nigeria in February, this year, isolation centres were created by state governments in order quarantine confirmed cases for treatment. However, with many patients escaping from isolation centres Nigerians have raised concerns. PAUL OKAH takes a look at the implications.
The coming of Covid-19 took many governments unawares in different parts of the world and revealed the poor or good state of health care centres as the case may be.
In Nigeria, many top government officials hitherto abandoned the hospitals or clinics to travel abroad for treatment of malaria or headaches, but have been forced by the pandemic to seek treatment from the same hospitals they had rejected.
Nevertheless, among the stipulations by health care professionals and governments for effectively combating the pandemic in Nigeria, isolation centres were built, converted or commissioned for the treatment of identified or confirmed cases.
By way of priority, many hospitals, hotels, schools, recreational centres and “abandoned” buildings were either donated to state governments by individuals or organisations for the effective treatment of confirmed cases, as the common interest was to control the pandemic from further spread, pending when an all-encompassing cure could be found.
Interestingly, over the months, the media has been awash with news of several patients rioting, attempting to escape and actually escaping from isolation centres in different parts of the country, thus raising concerns on what could be the underlying factors.
Incidents in Edo, Delta, Taraba Kaduna, Kwara, Osun states and other parts of the country have raised concerns as to the safety of innocent Nigerians the Covid-19 patients come in contact with whenever they escape, even as human rights activists have made a case for the welfare of isolated patients.
On Friday, May 15, 2020, no fewer than fifteen Covid-19 patients escaped from the Isolation centre at Sobi Specialist Hospital in Ilorin by jumping over the fence of the hospital where they were quarantined.
However, it took hours for security officers, who had launched a search around the area, to recapture the escapees and return them to the isolation center.
The chief press secretary to the Kwara state governor and spokesman of Covid-19 technical committee, Rafiu Ajakaye, confirmed the incident in a press statement issued on the same day.
He said: “Earlier today, Friday, May 15th, 2020, the government’s intelligence network uncovered a plot by some COVID-19 patients who sneaked into the state to escape. This attempt was promptly foiled leading to arrest and return of the patients, who had already scaled the fence. The government is dismayed that these persons were among the imported cases that intentionally violated the interstate lockdown and came into the state.
“Security has been further beefed up at our isolation centre. The government restates that Covid-19 is not a death sentence and there is no reason anyone would want to escape and put their own lives and the lives of other people at risk.”
NSCDC on Kaduna patient
Also, on April 16, 2020, a Covid-19 patient attempted to escape from an isolation centre in Kaduna without authorisation. According to the media assistant to the commandant-general, Ekunola Gbenga, the suspected Covid-l9 patient tried to leave the centre for morning prayers without the permission of doctors.
As a result, a confrontation ensued between the security personnel and the patient, who forcefully picked the keys of the gate of the centre and tried to open the gate to escape.
The patient was subdued by Corps Assistant Joshua Philip, who was among the officers on duty at the isolation center. The Covid-19 case was said to have engaged the civil defence officer in a fight after he stopped him from leaving his quarantine ward at the isolation centre, thereby exposing the officer to the virus, though the Corps have since strengthened its security measures in the internal isolation centre.
Similarly, on April 4, 2020, six persons with coronavirus reportedly escaped from an isolation centre in Ejigbo, Osun state, though a special manhunt has immediately activated by the state government to re-capture them.
The escapee patients, according to a signed statement from government officials, belonged to a cluster of Covid-19 cases, who returned to their hometown, Ejigbo, from Ivory Coast and were quarantined by the state government.
The names and contacts of those that fled from the centre were listed as Lawal Waliyulah, Masifa Ejigbo, 08063691573, Lasisi Murafat, Olugbodi’s compound Ejigbo, +22505368845 C/o Ganiyat Alabi 08075441187, Yusuff Afees, Ile Alawe, Ejigbo, 07011196193, Isola Abibat, Olori compound, Ejigbo, 08055905010, Nua Oyeleye, Ile Jesu, Oguro Ejigbo 08109375276 and Juel Olasupo, Baale compound Ejigbo 08149584397.
Discharged patient makes case
Interestingly, one of the recently discharged patients of Covid-19 in Delta state, in what appears to be a renewed campaign against claims that she tested positive for the virus, alleged that the ailment is a scam in the country.
The patient, a female aged 36, was reported positive for the virus on April 17 (despite her claims that she was negative), but was subsequently taken to the Covid-19 Isolation/Treatment Centre in Warri, where she was kept for 17 days, until her discharge.
Despite being discharged, after reportedly testing negative for the virus, the patient, while speaking with journalists, insisted that coronavirus is a scam as she never received nor saw her results indicating her status.
She said: “It was an audio result that I got. They called me to tell me that I was positive, but did not give me any result. Before I was taken there, I already said the virus is not in this country. We cannot curb its spread if it is in this nation. The disease may be in the western world, but not here. Keeping me in the isolation centre was against my wish.
“The markets are crowded. If it is here, more people would have been affected. The banks are also crowded. It’s a scam in this nation. I am a witness. I have been there. I may have stayed at the isolation centre, but I do not see myself as a Covid-19 patient.
“My friend, who was with me before I was admitted, is living his normal life. He is fine. His test was negative. How about my family at home? When I was sick, my mother was the one bathing me and even slept in the same room with me many times. She is almost 70 and still living her normal life. Imagine the close contact she had with me.
“They did not plan the drama before they went on stage. They would have quarantined my family. The reports that the doctors that attended to me were all tested positive for Covid-19 are all fabricated stories.”
In an interview with Vanguard newspapers published on May 17, a former senior special assistant on public affairs to former President Goodluck Jonathan,
Chief Doyin Okupe, gave an insight into what is obtainable at isolation centres.
He said, “My wife and I both tested positive on April 23 and went into isolation in Sagamu same day. We were both discharged on Tuesday, May 14. It’s difficult to say how we contracted the virus, but, obviously, I was exposed to someone who was infected. When I developed low grade fever and my wife had cough, I made a request for test. The testing process was easy and simple. I contacted the head of the Ogun state Covid-19 team, Dr. Dele Ajayi, and he handled the whole thing professionally and with dispatch. Within 24 hours, a team from Abeokuta came to my house and tested my whole household.”
Continuing, he said, “The isolation is psychologically traumatic and distressing. We had all the good care possible. Good, neat and modern environment – superb nursing and professional handling and management.
“The recovery phase started with the news of our testing negative on Friday, May 10. It’s sad that people are afraid of isolation centres and some still think it’s a shameful thing. This is wholesomely wrong – Nothing to be ashamed of. There is no immorality associated with it. So, no need to be ashamed. Also, there is nothing killing or extremely unbearable at the isolation center. My advice is that let us all cooperate with government and subject ourselves to the law.
“Covid-19 is a phase and it shall pass. Lockdown or no lockdown, people must, with understanding, personally restrict their movements. Stay at home and stay safe. Put money aside. Let us all assume that, business wise; this year is not for business. If we all survive at the end of the year, that will be our gain. Only a person who is alive can do business or prosper.”
Many Nigerians have expressed concerns that escaping Covid-19 patients may endanger the lives of innocent Nigerians, especially as the transmission of the virus is presently at the community level.
For Aisha Mohammed, a scholar, though it is not easy for one to be restricted against his own wish, exigencies of the time demands that the patients should not endanger the lives of others, which he said they might possibly have done whenever they escape and are recaptured.
“For someone to be quarantined in an isolation centre means he or she had tested positive for coronavirus and should not be allowed to transmit it to others. However, this objective is defeated when the patient attempts to or actually escapes from an isolation centre.
“Apart from distressing the officials taking care of the escapee patient, those whom he might have in contact with, before being recaptured, are at risk of contracting the virus. Therefore, it is man’s inhumanity to man and the height of wickedness to escape from an isolation centre and infect countless number of innocent people out of selfishness,” she said.
For human rights activist Michael Babatunde, the reason for Covid-19 patients escaping from isolation centres could not be far from how they were being treated, adding that it impinges on their fundamental human rights.
He said, “Have you considered how the patients are being treated at the isolation centres? Take into consideration the fact that the Nigerians recently evacuated from abroad were mandated to foot the bills of the cost of their evacuation from respective countries and isolation for 14 days here in Nigeria. This is regardless of the recent revelation that CBN and NNPC would take care of the cost of the isolation of the returnees.
“Though escaping does not make it, imagine being denied your right to freedom of movement and association just a few hours, let alone for 14 days or even more. So, their welfare is paramount. Whenever I read about any incident of escape from any part of the country, what comes to mind is the welfare of the isolated patients, especially as some of them claim that the virus is a hoax.
“Therefore, NCDC should tell Nigerians exactly what’s happening in the isolation centers that make the so called patients to run away, instead of receiving treatment. Is it that they don’t want to be healed or does it mean they’re not sick at all?”
In a chat with Blueprint Weekend, a clinical psychologist, Mr. Ajeigbe Ayo, gave possible reasons Covid-19 patients escape from isolation centres, but said it “boils down to government’s policies.”
“The psychological implication of Covid-19 on people infected varies across individuals. It ranges from loneliness to death anxiety, panic attacks, poor sleep pattern, disturbed thoughts, paranoia, possible hallucinations, hopelessness, apprehension, depression, and possible PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
“Nevertheless, there are several factors that can prompt an individual from running away from an isolation center. A few of these factors are health-seeking behaviour, denial, uncertainties, expectations, anxieties survival instinct (that mostly gets activated after being in a situation like this for at least two weeks).
“Lastly, the inconsistencies, level of assurance and reassurance from management staffs in the facility; the poor transparency in some past government policies; and unhealthy communication pattern of some government officials and organisations managing the individuals infected can influence such behaviour in people infected with Covid-19.”