COVID-19 and Kwara’s capacity to hold its own – Rafiu Ajakaye


This is no good time for mankind — no thanks to the deadly Coronavirus, or COVID-19. The virus is giving the most powerful of nations a good run for their money, technological know-how, and oft-touted readiness to face down any threat from anywhere. As of 10:37p.m. on March 29, the virus has affected 199 countries across all the continents with at least 718,656 cases (of which 533, 847 are confirmed), and 33,891 deaths. At 9:30p.m. on Sunday, Nigeria had 111 confirmed cases with one death.

What is scary about the virus is not its death rate which has been adjudged to be low. What is scary is the exponential rate at which it spreads and the consequences it could have on the public health sector. Given the much-advertised lapses in the health sector, Nigerians are expectedly worried about the spread of the virus. In Kwara, citizens have repeatedly asked about the state of preparedness in the wake of rising infections nationwide.

To be clear, the state government is focused primarily on prevention. If the virus does not come to the state, there would be no need to quarantine anyone and no facilities may be required to manage any case — mild or severe. Kwara has won laurels for moving fast to curtail the spread of COVID-19. It shut down schools well ahead of many states, directed workers to work from home, inaugurated a technical committee to manage the situation, rolled out various enlightenment programmes about the virus, and finally slammed a partial lockdown that has restricted movement. Compliance has been appreciable, even though the government is working hard to strengthen enforcement to check some violations. Palliatives are on the way this week to help the poor cope with the life-saving directive to stay at home. It has been argued that palliatives ought to have come before the shutdown. This argument suggests a poor appreciation of the crisis and the urgency to act fast. We are caught between staying at home, manage whatever we have to stay alive, and getting infected with a virus with a proven capacity to hold everyone to ransom within a space of one hour of Jum’ah or church service, or a trip in the crowded taxi between Sango and Challenge. Transmission is just a handshake away. The government has escalated its sensitisation campaigns to keep people aware. To deepen the state’s campaign and help the poor, the Governor on Sunday donated 100% of all of his salaries since May 29, 2019 to the efforts to keep COVID-19 out of Kwara State. That is at the level of prevention.

So what happens if *kasala* bursts in Kwara today? First, COVID-19 has no certain cure for now. Second, no country of the world has shown enough capacity to tackle this Leviathan especially if the patients are many or the symptoms become severe. Even then, capacity has become a relative term. Lagos, Nigeria’s COVID-19 frontline state, is reeling under this infection. Abuja and Oyo are catching up with Lagos. Now, does Kwara have the facility to manage COVID-19? That is a big question. There are just six accredited laboratories in Nigeria to test samples. They are controlled by the Federal Government and are found in Lagos, Edo, Osun, Abuja, and now Oyo. But testing is one thing. Case management is another. While Kwara cannot test because of the current federal structure, it is gladdening to assert that the state now has one of Nigeria’s strongest capacities to manage.

Kwara now has a new isolation centre, built from the scratch by the AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq administration. Another 60-bed facility is ready in about two weeks. But the icing on the cake is that the state today boasts of eight brand new ventilators, while order has already been placed for eight more. Until now, Kwara State Government had no isolation centre or a single ventilator. If any ventilator existed in Kwara, it was at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, a federal institution. But how did Kwara suddenly get ventilators at a time this critical instrument is scarce globally? Preparation. Foresight. Leadership. COVID-19 at its advanced stage attacks the lungs and makes the patient unable to breath. Without a ventilator, death comes. When the patient is unable to breath on their own, the ventilator becomes the only tool to give them a lifeline. Because this instrument is so crucial for COVID-19 case management, it has become scarce in the global market, including in the US.

The isolation centre is also equipped with sizeable number of high-quality patient monitors which were not available in any of the state-owned facilities until now. Kwara, for the first time, now has a defibrillator. The normal beddings at the centre, although new, have also given way to air mattresses. All of those equipment make the facility a two-in-one edifice: a complete Intensive Care Unit (ICU), something that was non-existent in any of the state’s hospitals, and a modern isolation centre.

The state has thousands of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and other safety tools for its medical personnel. Training and retraining about tackling infectious diseases had earlier been held for them late last year and early this year during the Lassa fever outbreak. Fresh ones were again recently held on how to handle COVID-19 if it ever happens. And orders are imminent for the delivery of mobile test kits to the state.

When you add that to the previous investments in basic health care under this administration, including payment of nearly one billion naira counterpart funds, the ongoing process of hiring new hands, renovating dozens of health centres statewide, and the soon-to-be-launched health insurance, it is clear Kwara has moved many miles ahead in critical infrastructure and manpower. This by no means suggests it is yet uhuru.

So, yes, Kwara occupies the front seat in the national preparation to contain the deadly virus it doesn’t have yet. But no preparation compares to Kwarans heeding the directive to stay at home and stay safe. This is no time to play pranks on the system. As scenarios in societies with better healthcare facilities have shown, any outbreak can easily overwhelm whatever facility and manpower already put in place, however surplus and sophisticated.

Ajakaye is the CPS to the Governor of Kwara State.

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