IT IS no longer news that the world is going through a new order, battling with challenges of COVID-19 pandemic amid looming economic downturn, heightened anxiety and pervading uncertainty on global future.
Before the world got into the current tangle with COVID-19, it (the world) had gone through nearly similar tough times in the past but got away with them by way of strategic approach or serendipitous outcome that helped ease the situation.
Before 1981, the world was not faintly familiar with Human Immune Virus and Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS), until it began its deadly ravages on human race within the decade.
Tough and challenging the era was, humanity knew there was no option left than to confront it headlong. The battle was taken to the laboratory but despite years of spirited scientific efforts, the disease is yet to be eliminated though the scourge has been seriously whittled down.
In the first decade of HIV/AIDS emergence in the society, about 10 million people were infected out of which 29850 deaths occurred in the United States alone.
The situation looked complicated but scientists did not relent in their search for an end to the menace. Even as at this 21st Century, the scourge has still taken out about 240,950 to the graves just in two months of year 2020 according to Hamburg University, Germany’s study.
Decades later, Ebola pandemic hit the globe. In less than three years, Ebola killed about 21310 out of 28616 reported cases despite global campaigns and concerted efforts to route it out at the shortest time possible. Till today, Ebola’s dreadful attack on humans is felt with highest resentment.
The world was pushed to the edge at the time but the good news is that Ebola was contained in the end.
On the heels of Ebola pandemic came Lassa fever. While the world got rattled with both Corona, Ebola, and HIV/AIDS, Nigeria got additional burden with Lassa fever hitting many states of her federation.
While the mentioned incidents are not any news, the similarities in rate of spread of these infections raise concerns and challenge the country’s approach to emergencies, especially, in a situation as serious as health.
Record does not seem to support Nigeria as a country primed for swift responses to emergencies. In 2014, before a certain Liberian, Mr Sawyer came into Nigeria with Ebola disease, the world had already been alerted on the emergence of such deadly disease. United Nations through the World Health Organisation provided much instructive incentives to help position countries on a better premise in combating the scourge.
Countries that are proactive in preventive policies tapped from the early warnings and signs to prepare themselves against the phenomenon but those who have predilection for curative engagements, habitually waited for the apogee moment to start their own remedial process.
The Sawyer Ebola vector and his entrance into Nigeria practically undetected but for his fainting at the Muritala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, lampooned the country’s shambolic preparedness for emergencies, despite clear warnings.
The Federal Government of Nigeria, under Goodluck Ebele Jonathan then did what Nigeria is best known for, using available resources to fight the spread rather than prevent the occurrence in the first instance.
But could it have been stopped from making entry into Nigerian in the first place? Of course, yes! The porosity of the country’s land borders is one factor that would continue to sabotage total control of this emergency situation and plague her economic growth if no radical reformation is carried out in the area soon.
This is compounded by incoherent activities in the country’s ports of entry at different airports (International Airports), leading to some entrance of illegal migrants and other unsolicited elements that cause the country a good measure of pains.
Perhaps, one common experience Nigerian citizens on travel outside the country share is going through tough scrutiny in the hands of immigrations, customs and other agencies within the arrival and departure points of different countries:
it therefore beats imagination that foreign nationals would pass through the country’s ports of entry with the least secondary security checks on their persons and missions where necessary. If Sawyer did not manifest obvious frailty, would he not have entered uninhibited into Lagos?
A Nigerian traveler to Asia in the days of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak, Bede Oloolo recalls, “way back in 2002, when SARS epidemic was ravaging parts of Asia, the Hong Kong International Airport kept tabs of all arriving and departing travelers at the airport.
All flight passengers were screened with customized gadgets that detected with ease anyone infected with the disease. The exercise was professionally conducted such that it did not create alarming situation yet the goal was maximally achieved despite huge number of travelers arriving and departing the airport.”
What Mr Bede’s reference suggests is quite simple and clear; operations at the airport were upgraded even if that was not what it used to be. In emergency situation, they devised emergency measures and they were able to be on top of the situation.
Nobody could import the disease into their country from any part of the world and their citizens could equally not export it to anywhere.
In recent development, where the world now faces fresh pandemic dubbed, COVIID-19, neither China nor Italy, despite their efforts have done great in containing the spread of this dreaded virus. Foreigners and nationals from their countries have continued to endanger the world with this scourge.
They could do better if they did not allow lapses to exist and the result is current proliferation of the virus across many continents. Now, they are closing down airports, schools, parks, malls and even worship centres in desperate efforts to contain the spread; incurring humongous economic loss in the process in addition to unprecedented deaths.
What lessons have Nigeria learnt from all these? It is important in life to be decisive and quick in action. The country’s entry points have never lived up to expectations, especially, the land borders. This has led to serious economic loss to the country as well as aided insecurity. It is not just enough to run helter-skelter when the environ is ravaged by infirmity while the structure holding its stability is nothing short of shambolic.
With porous and parlous land borders, how accurate can the country’s record be to be relied on, given that activities in the area lack error proof documentation? On activities at the airport, it makes no sense to station all manner of agencies and uniformed personnel while precision continues to be lacking in their operations.
Now, that COVID-19 has stolen itself into Nigerian climes, fears of its catastrophic consequence mount principally due to prevailing low hygiene culture and defective social system that may escalate the spread.
Even when schools and churches are closed, what about markets and their culture of calling customers by holding their hands and beckoning them for patronage? In the event of index case getting absorbed into the social community in such parlous clime like that of Nigeria and some other countries both in Africa, Asia and Europe, how would all contacts with the index case be ascertained?
Pondering on the questions bring to the fore, greater need to begin the process of saving the situation by first, preventing what could lead to its emergence. Health emergency units should be scaled up in all the states, while such facilities in all airports be activated for operations in and out of seasons.
COVID-19 is currently causing quake across the world with rapid mortality rate growth of over 600 deaths per day. Worrisome as this may be, it should provoke the thought on how malaria disease had been grossly undermined in Nigeria and indeed Africa, given that as high as 140,584 deaths have been recorded in just two months of 2020 due to malaria infection, Hamburg University study further reveals. This means that malaria causes about 4686 deaths per day.
The fact that malaria is not contagious as Ebola, Corona and other epidemics does not whittle down the lethal nature of the disease. Suffice it to say that deaths caused by malaria, cancer, dangerous living habits like drug addiction, alcohol indulgence and even road accidents are as high if not higher than Corona related deaths; yet they are not addressed with equal commitment as COVID-19 has elicited.
Then, the question, “why play down on issues that demand urgency until they escalate to phenomenal level”, continues to agitate the mind.
Ebola, Lassa and COVID-19 have opened a channel through which preview of commitments to general good health could be examined, with a view to creating a stronger framework to tackle future outbreaks.
Nobody knows what next could hit the world and where it may start but when countries like Nigeria arm themselves against the unforeseen, the chances of withstanding the evil day when it comes will be brighter.