Nigerians don’t have to wait until dead bodies litter the streets before obeying COVID-19 safety rules —NMA president

President, Nigerian Medical Association, Prof. Innocent Ujah, speaks on the ongoing battle against the COVID-19 pandemic in this interview with JAMES ABRAHAM

What is your assessment of the government’s efforts at fighting COVID-19?

This is a novel disease and it is coming at a time when people are unaware and unprepared; however, it has come. Now, the government has set up the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 that coordinates the response to the pandemic in the country and funds have been released. For the first time, we have seen the private sector contributing very generously to the response and that is a welcome addition to whatever that has been happening before. The process has started and we pray that we will continue to do our best to see that we prevail in our efforts over the disease. There is no straight answer to your question because the process is still on, but so far, the government is trying its best but we need to do more.

How can the Federal Government fill the gap?

 When we are talking about government efforts, we are not just referring to the Federal Government; we are also talking about state governments because the Federal Government alone cannot do it. The local people are in their communities under the governors. So, all hands must be on the deck for us to succeed in this fight. We know that the commitments of the governors are as varied as the numbers. Many of the governors are committed, while others are not. We need to refocus on our strategies and see how we can more effectively tackle the challenge of the virus in the country.

Community transmission of the disease is on the increase. How can the curve be flattened?

 I think that is one area we need to go back to the drawing board to and see what to do. The best way to do it is by evaluating what we are doing. We’re talking about three months into the pandemic in the country. These three months, how far have we gone? What is it that we could have done better than what we are currently doing? What is the new thing we can bring on board in the fight against the virus? Since the time the first case was recorded on February 27, so many things have happened and there is a need for a review to enable us enhance our strategies.

 Has the government been able to convince people, particularly those at the grass roots about the existence of COVID-19?

I think we need to carry out the appropriate messages to the communities. Not just the communities alone, because even some educated people still do not believe that there is COVID-19. You know that some states, including Kogi and Cross River are still in denial despite attempts by the Nigerian Medical Association to make them see reasons that it is not something we can wish away; it is one we need to act on and respond appropriately to so that our people do not get infected heavily as a result of denial. So, the appropriate messages should be sent out.

We have 774 local government areas in the country and what I have not seen is the active involvement of the National Orientation Agency in sensitising the people. So, many Nigerians do not believe that there is COVID-19, and I will say that it is this gap in sensitisation of the people about the disease that is responsible. I think Nigerians should listen to experts and do what they are saying. This is not politics but science. And because it is about science, we have to produce evidence but we do not have to wait until dead bodies are littering the streets before we begin to comply with safety protocols.

So, information dissemination by the National Orientation Agency is not at its best and I believe they can do more to bring this message to our people in our collective fight against the disease. Once we accept that there is COVID-19 and follow the basic protocols of regular handwashing with soap, using hand sanitizers, use of face masks and social distancing, among others, we will be able to clear the virus. But for now, the compliance level in observing these protocols is still very low.

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