By Hope Eghagha
I had cause to visit Shoprite in Surulere last Saturday. At the entrance attendants were dutifully checking temperature levels of customers. Most customers at the gate had their masks on. All kinds of masks. Some were partially slung across the face, covering only the mouth. It was when I went further in, facing the conveniences that I encountered a group of ten young men and a few ladies playing a game of snooker. I noticed that not even one of them had the face mask on. I engaged one of the guys to the hearing of others why he did not bother to wear the mask.
‘Coro no dey’, he said. I said: ‘Coro dey o. I’ve lost two known persons to the virus in Lagos in the last three weeks’, I told him. ‘That na lie! Na malaria kill them. How you take know say na coro? ‘We did a test and confirmed it’. ‘Abegi, government uses coro to chop money’. ‘Oga, you wear mask cover your mouth; why our president no dey wear mask’? I gave up and shook my head in disbelief. The previous Monday, I had driven to the popular Oyingbo Market just to look around and possibly buy some fruits. We drove slowly through the main market road. About ninety-five percent of the people in the market did not wear a mask. It was so surreal. Are we on different planets, in different worlds?
Why is there widespread scepticism about COVID-19 in Nigeria? What gave birth to the belief that the government simply wants to ‘chop’ money that is why they created talk about ‘coro? Why is government at different levels not enforcing use of the mask? What is the effect of this nonchalance on the spread of the virus through community infections? Have we addressed the issue of persons (asthmatics for example) who react when they use the mask? If we allow marketplaces to function without any control why have we banned opening religious centres where we can relatively control or enforce mask use and social distancing? Why did the management allow a group of men and women without masks into the facility?
COVID-19 is real. My scientific reasoning convinces me that it is a fact. The details of the how and why may not be clear now even to experts. But that there is a virus or an infection killing people across the land is not to be disputed. There are some myths about it. That it cannot kill many Africans because of our hot weather. That COVID-19 is for the rich and powerful, the elite. That it affects only the elderly if it exists. That we do not really know anybody who has died from it. That COVID-19 is part of end time activity that will make the world a unitary government.
Although our governments had sufficient time to prepare for the landing of COVID-19, we were still caught flat footed. Some states did not have any testing centres. Some states with a population of four million or more still have only one testing centre, a few ventilators and squalid isolation centres. Some have not done enough advocacy to the people. The monies which some states can benefit if they claim to have COVID-19 patients is also an issue.
I know two young men who lost their lives to COVID-19. In both cases there is the subtle request that the information should not be in the public domain. There is the belief that COVID-19 carries a stigma. Not true by the way. Anybody could become a victim. If we do not publicly declare the cause of death how would people in their circle believe that it is real? How can we do contact tracing? How prepared are the different governments for treating people who go down with the disease? There have been reports of sick persons who were turned back because they were not sick enough. Most doctors in hospitals are not fully equipped to deal with persons who present themselves for treatment in hospitals. A friend narrated how a pregnant lady died in one of the teaching hospitals. Although she presented as an emergency no one could really touch her. Between being referred from one government facility to another she died. This is scary.
It is true that the pandemic has stretched the health facilities of most countries to the limit. Yet some are better prepared than others. But hospitals are not accepting patients for routine health challenges. This is dangerous. We realize the risk health personnel face when they admit patients who turn out to have a different health issue. Too many lives that could have been saved are being quietly lost. The message is that no one should fall ill at this time. Even routine treatment of hypertension cases has become problematic. This should not be.
We need a re-evaluation of our strategies on COVID-19. We need massive enlightenment programmes. We need to do more testing. The interstate movement prohibition is not working. People move from one state to the other. We need to carry the people along. We need to lead by example by wearing masks and social distancing. We need to change the narrative about COVID-19 being a conduit pipe for looting the treasury. We need to enforce the protocols – washing of hands, social/physical distancing and use of masks. How do we convince the people that it is safe to go the market but not safe to go to church places and mosques? Tough. In places of religious worship, there can be some control as I observed earlier on. Not in the marketplaces.
Finally, the point must be made that COVID-19 is real. Hunger and the desire to get on in life are real too. Hunger is more visible than COVID-19. The state should not abandon the people. There is the contract between the elected and the electorate. This is the time to act. I have not heard of any of the states or the federal government equipping any hospital to meet the demands of the times. We are in an emergency. Government through word and deed should show that the situation is dire and that the people matter. But who is listening?
Eghagha can be reached on 08023220393