Nigeria’s federal government on Tuesday said it would step up surveillance at all the country’s international airports and trigger the now relaxed scientific approach, including asking travellers to fill health forms, in addition to checking their temperature, in response to the surge in spread of COVID-19.
It urged state governments to submit an inventory of isolation and testing centres for the management of COVID-19 in their respective states.
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire disclosed this on Tuesday while speaking at the 17th Edition of the PMB Administration Scorecard.
He said government’s response to the latest spike would be guided by science through creating awareness and involving the public with increasing vaccination.
“We need to go back to wearing of face masks to protecting those with compromised health issues and to washing our hands and sanitising, if it gets even worse than that. But we have not seen what the variants are like. Right now we just are going to increase surveillance at the points of entry; checking temperature, asking visitors to fill health forms to know where they are coming from and if they are coming from high burdened areas. We are also going to start vaccinating. Those who have not vaccinated will vaccinate at the airports before they enter, while those fully vaccinated will come in. Those are the measures we will be working on,” Ehanire said.
The minister also insisted that Nigeria would not spontaneously ban travellers from China from entering the country over the rising cases that are suspected to be triggered by variants linked to the dominant Omicron strain.
He attributed the surge in the pandemic to the global winter gripping across China, Europe and the Americas, saying COVID appears to explode in temperate areas and also recede in the summer.
“It is related to the fact that in winter you lock up the house and don’t leave house and no fresh air is coming in and no ventilation. We don’t exactly know yet but it is related. There is always a surge of Covid around Winter. It is not Covid China, so let’s disabuse our minds from issue of China. It is along the temperate belt. Are we going to start banning people from China because other countries are doing it?”
The minister said although the health authorities had discovered that the prevalent variant in China also bore semblance to the sub-variant already present in Nigeria, its concern is that the sub variants in other places are not the type present in the country.
Ehanire also allayed the concern about the exodus of Nigerian doctors and other health workers in pursuit of greener pasture. He said the crisis is global because of the mobility of the health work force.
“This is not really an exodus. The very high workforce mobility is global; doctors and nurses are moving everywhere. I have had occasions speaking with other ministers, even Ghana. They are losing doctors going elsewhere. There is a high mobility in the health sector internationally. So, we should not knock ourselves as if we are just the only victims on earth,” Ehanire said.
He also added that he had at occasions reflected on the scenario with the authorities in the UK, who complained that their doctors are going to New Zealand and Canada where the pay is better.
He said government is seeking to improve the conditions of service for health workers including allowances and remuneration so that doctors don’t just receive grade level salary paid to other workers, but their performance can indeed be measured and be rewarded for the work done.
“What we are also going to do is what we call conversion of brain drain to brain gain We are doing that with a new mechanism that is being set up to engage Nigerian doctors, pharmacists sand nurses in Diaspora and connect them with home universities because modern technology makes it possible for someone to be giving lectures. They can be affiliated with the teaching hospitals and come with cutting knowledge and skills”
He said from the conversation with the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, there is actually a net balance of doctors as the country is producing about 3,000 doctors every year from the universities. He said while 1,000 doctors are after the Golden Fleece, about 800 are returning having trained overseas.
Meanwhile, Ehanire has urged state governments to submit an inventory of isolation and testing centres for the management of COVID-19 in their respective states.
At the height of the pandemic, the country’s isolation centres and healthcare staff were equipped to deal with the virus.
“COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic and the equipment in those isolation centres need to be maintained to prevent equipment failure.
“States and hospitals need to have adequate maintenance arrangements in place to ensure the equipment remains safe to use in the incidence of an outbreak,” he said.
The minister said the federal government had supported states in their preparedness and response to the COVID-19 management.
“This includes supporting the establishment of diagnostic capacity, public health emergency operations centres, as well as training of health workers and rapid responders across states,” noting that all the support needed to be nurtured.
“We supported the 36 states to activate testing capacity for COVID-19, further strengthening the resilience of the country’s health system,” he added.
Before the pandemic, the country had just five molecular laboratories, but 140 new laboratories were built and commissioned across the country, as of July 2021.
Every state has at least one public health laboratory with molecular testing capacity.
The pandemic also engineered the establishment of 12 standard molecular laboratories with capacity beyond scaling for COVID-19.
Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja