By Umar Usman Kadafur
If the best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus is for people to stay at home, what do we do about Nigeria’s Internally Displaced Persons who have no homes?
The world has literally stood still and is yet to recover from shock since the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) accelerated between February and now. Close to 14,000 people have died from contracting the infectious disease and over 300,000 others have been infected, a good number of them seriously ill. Many advanced countries, including Italy, Germany, and the US, are struggling, but without calming success, to keep the virus contained and their citizens safe, making the prospects for less developed economies like Nigeria all the more frightening.
Already, 35 cases have been confirmed by the authorities in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti, Edo and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the figure is rising by the day. Of course, with interstate travelling still taking place and few people self-isolating, it is only a matter of time before more are discovered in other places.
Nigeria cannot respond to the virus outbreak exactly as other countries have for various reasons. We cannot boast of having the same quality of health care facilities and doctor-to-population ratio. Extreme poverty levels make it difficult for people to quit working even for a while. Circulating helpful and truthful information to the majority of people can also prove tough because of discouraging literacy and internet penetration rates among other indices.
Also crucial is the fact that the country experiences unique problems as a result of a decade-long insurgency led by Boko Haram. There are over 2 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) across the Northern region and over 3 million people suffering from food insecurity, mostly in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also estimated that as many as 5.3 million people are in need of health interventions in just these three states. Unfortunately, with nearly half of health facilities not operating in Borno, available infrastructure isn’t close to being adequate to manage the existing crisis.
The stakes are far too high, hopes are shaky, and we simply cannot afford to be careless or nonchalant about the growing threat from coronavirus. This is why the Borno State government, ably led by Professor Babagana Zulum, is not waiting for the pandemic to strike before taking steps. Last Friday, His Excellency set up a high-power response team to prevent the virus from spreading to the state and keeping it in check in case it does.
Because, now more than ever before, all hands have to be on deck, the team will be working closely with various government establishments and international organisations including WHO, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and so on. As the chairman of this group, I cannot stress enough the enormousness of the task before us. Our approach as a government is to adopt the mechanisms that have worked in foreign countries, while fully recognising our unique circumstances in this part of the world. As the Kanuri proverb goes, he who does not know the road holds back even the one who does. Knowledge sharing will save not only a lot of resources, but also lots of lives.
The state government is already taking steps in ensuring people stay at home as much as possible to reduce the chances of the virus spreading. It can’t be business as usual. The ministry of education will reschedule examinations so that schools can shut down within the next week and we are also paying more attention to our land borders. Since the virus is introduced into a community by someone or people who have earlier been exposed in a different place, it is obvious that the greatest threat is from our porous borders and monitoring systems. Our security agencies and border patrol officers, therefore, need to be equipped to fully document all kinds of migration and also test immigrants for symptoms of the virus.
Humanitarian workers and health care providers who have been to high-risk countries in the past weeks have to be persuaded to self-isolate for as long as necessary before interacting with the local population. We are disinfecting our various IDP camps and this will be done as frequently as possible. We are creating more shelters to end overcrowding and reduce human contact, improve sanitary facilities, and provide necessary items such as single-use gloves, face masks, soap, contactless water taps, and hand sanitisers in IDP Camps. It is also important that we have temporary isolation tents at all camps for IDPs who show symptoms of pneumonia as well as readily available ambulances to convey sick people to the hospital for proper care.
Above all, we need more health professionals available at these camps to man the various facilities and ensure standard preventive and general medical practices are complied with. We urge all medical students, and medical personnel that are on leave to return to their respective duty posts and join the efforts of the Borno State Government in pushing back this virus, our people cannot live with the virus of Boko Haram insurgency and COVID-19.
Now is the time for Boko Haram to choose the path of peace because no one is immune to the devastating effects of COVID-19, the survival of each one of us depends on the cooperation of every one of us. Everyone with information or skills that are helpful at this time of great need should come forward with them. The future of our race and our children is what is at stake and we, the government and people alike, must be willing to sacrifice everything in securing it.
Umar Kadafur is the deputy governor of Borno State and chairman of the state’s response team to the coronavirus pandemic