2021 Nigeria still grappling with Covid-19 impact, other health issues

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Uba Group

BY BRIGHT JACOBS AND MOYINOLUWA BAMIDELE-LUCAS

As the world heralded the beginning of a new year in January 2021, the corona virus pandemic was still on the front burner of health-related news in Nigeria, and indeed the world. The pandemic had ravaged economies, and ground life to a near halt. A vast majority of the world’s population was disillusioned and depressed in the wake of the disease, were hopeful of a lasting solution due to the advent of the various vaccines developed to nip the virus in the bud.

Nigeria, though the restrictions and lock down were being relaxed in phases, still reeled from the impact of the second wave of Covid-19. The federal government had advised Nigerians to continue to observe all the covid-19 protocols. At that time, too, something in the region of 200 vaccines was still being developed in different parts of the world.

However, the ones that made it to the stage of vaccine administration and which led the charge in the world’s effort to confront the disease were the Pfizer-BioNTech, the first to be licensed for use, and the Modena and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines. Other vaccines in this category were the Chinese Sinovac and Russian Sputnik-V vaccines.

Though some countries had commenced administering the vaccines to their citizens, it generated much controversy in the country. While some experts warned the FG against mass vaccination, and the need to study all the clinical trial reports before vaccination, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) came out to say that though vaccines would be subjected to “proper revalidation before administration, there won’t be any clinical trial on the proposed N400bn vaccines the FG intended to procure, and this was because the World Health Organisation had done the clinical trials and approved the vaccines, hence there wasn’t need to conduct any more trials. Apart from that, there was also a debate about the conditions under which vaccine could be stored and preserved, and the type of vaccines that would suit the Nigerian environment the most, as the incessant power situation in the country didn’t help matters, since vaccines were stored at very low temperature.

In January, Faisal Shuaib, the Executive Director of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, announced in a press conference of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, that Nigeria would receive 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the end of January. However, it was not until the 2nd of March before the nation received the first Covid-19 vaccines in Abuja courtesy of the international COVAX scheme. Nigeria got 3.92million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines, which could be stored at two to eight degrees centigrade and which NAFDAC had approved the previous month for use in Nigeria to kick-start it’s vaccination campaigns.

Afterwards, chairman of the presidential task force on Covid-19, Boss Mustapha, stated that the government intended to start by vaccinating frontline healthcare workers, followed by “strategic” leaders.

In July, the NCDC announced that it had detected, in a traveler to Nigeria, a confirmed case of the Delta variant. Though there had been earlier mutations of the virus named the Alpha and Beta variants, which had been reported in some parts of the world, it was sometime in August that the WHO disclosed their (Alpha and Beta variants) presence in Nigeria. The Omicron variant later took centre stage when it was first detected in South Africa in November, causing much panic across the globe because little was known about it. It was in December that the NCDC reported the first cases of the variant in the country, which was immediately followed by the UK, Canada, Saudi Arabia, etc., slamming travel bans and flight restrictions against Nigeria, who also retaliated by placing its own travel bans against those countries, too. Meanwhile, the WHO said that early data suggested an increased risk of re-infection with Omicron, and that it could cause milder disease than Delta. They also announced that 180,000 health workers died from Covid-19 globally.

Away from Covid-19 reviews, the WHO announced in March that the low tuberculosis case detection, which was only 27% of the estimated incident of TB cases, was a major cause for concern as it could hinder the country from achieving its 2025 national target on TB.

WHO’s representative in Nigeria, Walter Mulombos, who revealed this in Abuja at the TB day ministerial briefing and official launch of the Unified National TB campaign, also said that poor budgetary funding posed a threat to the realisation of those targets. The FG, however, refuted that figure and submitted that it met 73% case finding in 2019, and in a related TB news, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) facilitated the unveiling of a 16-Module GeneXpert Machine, for the fight against TB, at the Diagnostic Complex of EL-Lab in Lagos.

“However, for the fourth time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, resident doctors embarked on another strike on August 2, because the government hadn’t implemented the MoA 113 days after it was signed

In the campaign against malaria, there was a “Zero Malaria Starts With Me” movement that was powered by some African stars that included Eliud Kipchoge, a Kenyan Olympic medalist, SiyaKolisi, captain of the Springboks of South Africa, as well as Nigerian celebrities, OmotolaJalade-Ekeinde, Osas Ighodaro, who led, in the month of March, “a youth-focused creative campaign to inspire young people from across the African continent and the globe to call on their leaders and push for political action to end malaria within a generation,” an excerpt of a statement on the end malaria website said.

The campaign theme was “Draw The Line” against malaria.

The following month in April, the WHO said that more than 650,000 African children had been immunized against the deadly plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria. According to WHO, the exercise was part of the malaria vaccine pilot scheme which it initiated in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi in 2019, whose data would be reviewed by global advisory bodies for immunisation and malaria, to consider whether the vaccine would be used more widely.

A few months later, precisely in October, in what was seen as “a massive breakthrough” according to Pedro Alonso, Director of the World Health Organisation Global Malaria Programme, the WHO gave the thumbs up for the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine, the only existing vaccine shown to reduce malaria in children by acting against plasmodium falciparum, the most prevalent and the most deadly malaria parasite in the world.

According to the WHO, malaria kills over 400,000 people each year, with a child dying every two minutes. The WHO’s director-general, Tedro Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that the vaccine could prevent the deaths of tens of thousands of children in Sub-Saharan Africa each year.

Industrial actions by healthcare workers were also a part of 2021. Doctors under the aegis of the National Associated of Resident Doctors had embarked upon an indefinite strike action which started on the 1st of April, to press home their demands, which included “the upward review of the current hazard allowance to 50 percent of consolidated basic salaries of all health workers and payment of the outstanding Covid-19 inducement allowance, especially for state-owned tertiary institutions,” etc. The strike was called off ten days later after the FG signed a Memorandum of Action (MoA) with the doctors.

However, for the fourth time since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, resident doctors embarked on another strike on August 2, because the government hadn’t implemented the MoA 113 days after it was signed. According to the doctors, the irregular payment of salaries and non-payment of death benefits to families of their members who died while treating Covid-19 patients, still lingered.

Though other health bodies like the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) and the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), in solidarity, threatened to join the strike with the resident doctors, the resident doctors would eventually call off the strike in October after the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, said that the FG had proposed N47 billion annually for payment of hazard allowance starting from the 2022 budget.

Apart from those strike actions, brain drain existed in the health sector, as healthcare workers left the country in droves in search of greener pastures and countries with better condition of service. The president of the nurses and midwives association, Adetunji Abdulrafiu, told The Point that they were helpless and couldn’t do anything to stop the exodus of Nigerian nurses, except to put modalities in place that would ensure that Nigerian nurses didn’t suffer as they took their services outside the shores of the country.

Though the government had consistently voiced its opposition to the migration of the health workers, it was however alleged that in one incident, it unleashed the Department of State Security, Nigeria’s secret police, to disperse doctors at the Abuja venue of a recruitment exercise for job placements in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The DSS denied the report and said the news was designed to “embarrass the organisation.”

In a diabetes related news, former president Olusegun Obasanjo, in August, revealed that he had been managing the disease for the past 35 yrs. Obasanjo spoke during the closing ceremony of the Ogun State Diabetes Youth Development Camp held in Abeokuta. He also told his audience that he lost many of his friends to diabetes because they couldn’t manage the disease.

Obasanjo further stated that at over 80 years old, he still went around with his drugs and testing kits to ensure he had the right blood sugar level. He also allayed the fears of other diabetic patients when he stated that diabetes was not a killer disease if managed properly.

In a report from the 10th edition of the IDF Diabetes Atlas, about 6.7 million deaths recorded globally were linked to Diabetes Mellitus. The report also stated that about 567 million adults across the world are currently living with the disease out of which 24 million are from Africa. Also, the report estimated that one in every ten adults worldwide lived with diabetes in 2021, and the number of those living with the disease was predicted to rise to 642 million by 2030, and 784 million by 2045.

Though there may be hope for humanity against diabetes as a study reported the outcome of a ten-year trial “that compared metabolic surgery with conventional medical and lifestyle interventions in patients with type 2 diabetes” and found out that the former (metabolic surgery) was more effective in the long-term control of the disease. The study was conducted by King’s college, London, and the Fondazione Policlinico Universitario Agostino Gemelli, Rome, Italy.