This week, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Control of COVID-19, Mr Boss Mustapha, expressed fears that the #ENDSARS campaign may escalate the rate of coronavirus infections in the country.
Coronavirus disease is an infectious disease which can cause a person to experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment while, in some cases, symptoms can be severe.
Preventing the spread of COVID-19 from person to person is vital to reduce the outbreak’s impact on people’s lives, health, livelihoods and healthcare.
Frequent and thorough handwashing with soap and water is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Like a cold, coronaviruses are spread through droplets from a person coughing or sneezing and potentially via contaminated surfaces.
Good hygiene, which can hardly be guaranteed during mass gatherings like the #ENDSARS protests, is key to avoiding spreading it – and catching it.Handwashing with soap is simple but effective. This is because it inactivates and removes virus particles that may be on our hands. When used properly, soap effectively dissolves the fatty membrane that surrounds the virus particles, causing them to fall apart and be inactivated.
Speaking in Abuja, the SGF said measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing and use of sanitisers were not being observed at gatherings of the protesters.Though the SGF acknowledged that the country is winning the battle against the coronavirus, he said the disease remains very virulent, deadly and dangerous.
“This statistical review becomes very relevant when we remember that …quite a number of large gathering events, particularly the protests across the country, have been taking place,” he said. “The fact that measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing and use of sanitisers were never observed.”
However, while the SGF is apt in raising fears, for now, there is no evidence of a large COVID-19 outbreak from mass protests, anywhere around the world.Still, there are infection risks due to the inability of protesters to observe the social distance, wash their hands and improper use of masks or to forego them entirely.Thus, it is unfortunate that it will be impossible to track the COVID-19 effect of the protests until after two weeks, which is the average gestation period for the virus.
Unfortunately, too, is the prohibitive cost of COVID-19 tests, which might make it difficult for young Nigerians involved in the #ENDSARS protests to pay to be tested early and avoid spreading the disease.
Agreed, it is helpful that the youth, who are engaged in the SARS protests face some of the lowest risks of infections and chronic symptoms if infected.Agreed, studies have proven that COVID-19 transmission risks are lower in open-air spaces, compared to indoor spaces.
Nonetheless, it is paramount that the authorities take right protective measures to make Nigerians stay healthy, while not denying the youth their fundamental rights to assemble and show their disapproval for any government policy and or programme.No doubt, one of the highest transmission risks at mass protests is the use of tear gas and pepper spray by the police, which will force protesters to take off their masks to breathe and, in the process, increase the risk of transmission from infected protesters.
Hence, in order to curtail the spread of the deadly disease during protests, it is incumbent on especially the police authorities and protesters to do the needful and remember that they are responsible for their life and the lives of other Nigerians, many of whom were not involved in the protests.
On its part, the government still has got a lot to do to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially in the aftermath of the youth’s protests.
As stated, hand washing with soap and clean water is one of the simplest and most effective disease prevention methods available, and it is the first line of defence against COVID-19.
However, despite established evidence of the effectiveness of good hygiene practice as the first line of defence in the prevention of COVID-19, about 60 million people in Nigeria lack access to clean water supply services, and 150 million people lack basic handwashing facilities with soap and water.
Levels of access to water, sanitation and hygiene services in rural communities are even more worrisome, making this segment of the population far more vulnerable.Worse, climate change is piling pressure on water resources that are already overstretched due to inadequate infrastructures, poor water management and insufficient government funding.
Owing to this regrettable, but avoidable situation, millions of people are unable to practice frequent handwashing with soap and water, thereby increasing their risk of being susceptible to COVID-19.
Therefore, it is apt to highlight the need for the government, through the Boss Mustapha-led committee, to expand access to sustainable clean water and hygiene services, particularly in marginalised and poor communities.
However, while it remains the right of Nigerians to protest, protesters must remember that COVID-19 is an unseen enemy which thrives when people lower their guard. And, curiously, at no point can guard be lowered than during mass protest.
Therefore, the protesters should hearken to the voices of reason, up their guard by ceasing the protests and accept the invitation extended to them by the government for dialogue.
Like the SGF rightly said, Nigeria cannot afford to lose the momentum and successes it has gathered in its fight against COVID-19 and risk a second wave of infections that might overwhelm the country’s health system.
No doubt, it is gratifying that the Presidential Task Force has accelerated its plans for the National Testing Week and it shall continue to monitor developments in areas where new mass gathering events take place over the next three weeks for signs of a spike in numbers.
But, importantly, in order to collectively win this coronavirus fight, we all must heed the call that everyone who has been exposed to large gatherings should get tested and/or report any signs of the symptoms of COVID-19 to the health authorities.
Alternative medicines bill overdue, apt
The Federal Executive Council (FEC), this week, in a move that pleases many, has approved a bill for the establishment of the National Council for Traditional and Alternative Medicine in Nigeria.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, made this known at the end of the weekly FEC meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari.Though cheaper, the basic principle behind many kinds of alternative medicine is balance. Acupuncture, tai chi, and various forms of energy medicine are designed to bring the body into balance which, in theory, can help restore health.
This principle of balance is an important one to keep in mind when considering alternative medicine. There are many benefits of using alternative medicine for a wide variety of conditions, but there are also things to be cautious of.
Hardly, in Nigeria, now, the minister said the bill “seeks to take traditional and complementary medicine out of obscurity and give it a profile to institutionalise it as has been done in other countries like China and India.”
He aptly pointed out that the emergence of coronavirus has renewed the call for homegrown solutions to public health diseases and value in traditional medicines.The minister was apt because, unlike alternative medicine, traditional or conventional medicine views disease as a distinct entity from the person who carries it.
The growing trend towards specialisation in medicine has led to many treatment advances, but also has distanced physicians from the healthy parts of their patients.A key difference between traditional and alternative medicine is that most forms of alternative medicine emphasise whole-body care. According to the Osher Centre for Integrative Medicine, a growing interest in a more holistic approach to health is one of the main reasons alternative medicine is on the rise.
Because of the emphasis on whole-body care, alternative medicine practitioners often offer patients a great deal of personal attention.
Appreciatively, while traditional physicians can be strapped for time and packed waiting rooms, alternative medicine practitioners, on the other hand, because of different philosophies and fee structures, typically place greater emphasis on one-on-one attention.
Other than its cheapness and accessibility, another draw to alternative medicine is its focus on prevention. Whereas traditional medicine tends to intervene once the disease is present, many types of alternative medicine encourage patients to have what is known as well visits, where attention is focused on preventing disease before it occurs, in addition to being cared for when sick.
It is, of course, heart-warming that in response to increased consumer demand, funding for research studies on alternative medicine is growing. But compared with traditional medical methods, the evidence is still limited, which has left many questions unanswered.
It is, therefore, hoped that the recent move by the Buhari-led administration to boost alternative medicine would provide an opportunity for training of practitioners, the establishment of research institutions and collaboration with the institute of pharmaceutical research of Nigeria and stakeholders.