Nigeria’s Nasidi and America’s Fauci: Fighting COVID-19

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By Bashir Ibrahim Hassan

In the panicky moment of the COVID-19 pandemic slowly setting its wicked grip around the country’s socio-economic life, nothing is needed more than heeding the advice of health experts. And expert suggestions are not in short supply from medical and health authorities.

One of the experts who have been providing such advisories in recent time is Prof. Abdulsalam Nasidi. In a recent interview that he had with one of the national business dailies, the Professor of Virology has called on President Buhari to talk to the nation and to take lead in the fight against COVID-19, as his predecessor did in the case of Ebola epidemic outbreak some years back.

Last Friday, March 29th, the President heeded this call and addressed the nation. He announced proactive measures, such as imposing lockdowns on FCT and two states — Lagos and Ogun. On Monday, March 30th, he signed a 5-page quarantine act that gave him the power to lock down the three locations mentioned above.

Prof. Abdulsalam Nasidi Fighting COVID-19
Prof. Abdulsalam Nasidi

Prof. Abdulsalam Nasidi, a graduate of Medicine did his houseman-ship in 1977 at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. After his houseman-ship, he did his Masters in Epidemiology in the year 1979, and later obtained a Ph D in Virology in 1983.

He then worked at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), Yaba, until 1986, when he was appointed by the Federal Ministry of Health to head its vaccine production center from 1986 to 1990.  He became Nigeria’s chief epidemiologist for 16 years.

He was appointed director of public health in the health ministry in 2008. He retired  in 2011, but was called back by the ministry to establish and serve as its pioneer CEO of the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

Dr. Antony Fauci is the face of the US’ war against Covid-19. His CV reads like that of our own Prof. Nasidi.  He is an American physician and immunologist, who has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAD) since 1984.

Dr. Antony Fauci Fighting COVID-19
Dr. Antony Fauci

Since January 2020, he has been one of the leading members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force addressing the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic in the US. As a physician with the National Institute of Health (NIH) of the United States, he has served public health in various capacities for over fifty years.

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He has made contributions to HIV/AIDS research and other immune-deficiencies, both as a scientist and as the head of the NIAID at the NIH.

Like Fauci, our Prof. Nasidi has a lot of advice for federal and state governments on containment efforts so far put in place. But, without mincing words, the bottom line is these levels of governments need to do more in the face of the viral nature of the disease in question.

Before we take a glimpse at his perspectives, let us examine last Friday’s speech of the President. The speech was reassuring as far as taking the public along on the efforts the government is making in the fight against the pandemic.

Overall, the speech focused mainly on government’s efforts put in place to diagnose and track the contacts of confirmed cases, and some of the measures taken to ameliorate the hardship that is bound to follow people’s movement restrictions.

What the speech falls short of highlighting is what preparation we have put in place to manage the victims apart from designating stadia and pilgrims’ camps as isolation centres. It is from this perspective that I found the advice of Prof. Nasidi quite imperative.

The learned virologist advises both the federal and state governments to be proactive and be prepared for the eventualities of major outbreaks. He also emphasised the need for coordinated approach to the response against COVID-19 by both the federal and state governments. Similarly, he called for harmonisation of public and private sectors and non-governmental organisations‘ contribution.

In the light of the 15 billion naira set aside by the Federal Government and the flurry of donations from the private sector, one will expect more to have been achieved in terms of preparations to manage the rising number  of patients (131 as I write this article) beyond the current containment phase.

Prof. Nasidi has commendations for the NCDC’s readiness from the perspective of diagnostics. In his words, “We are using the laboratories that we established at LUTH to fight Ebola. It is what we are using to confirm the Coronavirus and sequence the virus, including the one at the NIMR. So, you can see that from the diagnostic point of view, we are ready, and in positioning manpower, we are also trying. At least we are using the NCDC team and the team in Lagos.”

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But beyond the containment phase, we don’t seem to be well prepared. When next the President speaks to the nation, we will expect he will heed the advice of experts like Prof. Nasidi on what is needed to be on ground in preparation against possible outbreak.

The two-step approach to tackling the pandemic, the President explained in his speech, is alright. That is, to protect the lives of our fellow Nigerians and residents living here and, second, to preserve the livelihoods of workers and business owners to ensure their families get through this very difficult time in dignity and with hope and peace of mind.

Within the context of the first approach, it will be good if the President takes cognisance of two major phases to fighting COVID-19 containment and treatment. We have done relatively well according to experts like Prof. Nasidi on containment, but relatively poorly in preparing for treatment when the need arises.

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In his speech, the President addressed how he planned to help the most vulnerable in society saying: “I have directed that the conditional cash transfers for the next two months be paid immediately. Our Internally displaced persons will also receive two months of food rations in the coming weeks”.

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In his next address to the nation, we will expect what provisions his government has made to cater for those lying critically in the hospitals suffering from the debilitating agony of COVID-19.

Beyond the Presidential Task Force that is working to address the current COVID-19 pandemic, we need to take lessons from the way the pandemic surprised the world by putting robust mechanisms in place that will monitor occurrence of such outbreaks in future.

Here I am suggesting a Presidential Health Intelligence Committee of sorts. The committee will be independent, even though it will work closely with established health institutions and relevant stakeholders.

As the name suggests, the committee will report directly to the President and engage him proactively in identifying health red flags and advising what needs to be done to contain them before they become epidemic.

In his speech last Friday, the President acknowledged the role of expert advice in these words: “As a government, we will continue to rely on guidance of our medical professionals and experts at the Ministry of Health, NCDC and other relevant agencies through this difficult time.”

It now remains for the NCDC to extend similar recognition for the advice of the many experts we have in the country, which it can pass on to President Buhari.

Bashir Hassan wrote this piece from Abuja

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