Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu is the Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. In this exclusive interview with Thisday's Martins Ifijeh, he said the federal government is more than ready to tackle any eventual Coronavirus outbreak. He also advised Nigerians to imbibe normal hygiene culture, including hand washing with soap under running water.
As at today, how prepared is Nigeria against Coronavirus? Also share some of the new interventions put in place against it within this few days.
Since the first cases were confirmed in China in January 2020, the NCDC has been in close contact with WHO, the Africa Centre for Disease Control and other coordinating bodies. We set up an Epidemic Information Management Group that includes representatives from Port Health Services of the Federal Ministry of Health, WHO and other partners. This group meets daily to review the situation globally, assess the risks to Nigeria and provide recommendations for action. It is very important for the right information to be disseminated. A public health advisory was issued to Nigerians to inform members of the public on steps to take if they suspect that there is a case of Coronavirus around them. We have also provided guidance to state ministries of health on what to do if they have a suspect case. The Port Health Services have heightened screening at ports of entry, especially for passengers traveling from China to Nigeria. This is to enable us detect cases quickly, if there are any
Over the last three years, we have strengthened capacity at our National Reference Laboratory to provide molecular diagnosis for various disease pathogens. This depends on laboratory equipment, primers specific for pathogens and technical expertise. At the moment, we are receiving advice from WHO on gaining access to the primers to be used for this ‘new’ virus. In December 2019, we completed the training of Rapid Response Teams in all states in Nigeria. Every state has a Rapid Response Team ready to be deployed in the event of an outbreak. We have also supported 22 states to establish Emergency Operations Centres (EOCs). These EOCs serve as coordination platforms and are networked to our National Incident Coordination Centre. In addition to supporting the establishment of EOCs, we also trained colleagues in the states on the activation of incident management systems during outbreaks. This has been activated for various outbreaks in states and we continue to learn from this. We continue to improve our surveillance system to quickly detect infectious disease cases for immediate response activities.
Is any Nigeria or African infected by the Coronavirus outbreak?
Currently, there is no known case of the Novel Coronavirus detected in Nigeria. However, we are working very hard to be prepared in the event of an outbreak. It is precisely for events like this that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control was set up.
Won’t Nigeria’s Joint External Evaluation capacity affect our preparedness level?
The Joint External Evaluation (JEE) of International Health Regulations capacities helps countries identify areas in their health security that need to be strengthened. Since our first JEE in 2017, we have worked very hard to improve our capacity to prevent, detect and respond to infectious disease outbreaks and public health emergencies. We have established a National Reference Laboratory with the capacity to test for all epidemic prone diseases in Nigeria as well as highly pathogenic infections such as Ebola. We continue to build capacity in our network of laboratories across states in Nigeria. We have also improved our emergency response capacities, risk communications, coordination with other ministries, departments and agencies and more. We are not where we want to be, but we continue to make progress.
Nigerians travel to China in droves for business. Are there travel bans from our end?
During outbreaks, countries are guided by advice from the WHO on travel and trade related bans through the International Health Regulations. Currently, WHO has not placed any ban on travel between China and other countries. No country in the world has placed travel bans. However, travel has been severely restricted out of then Wuhan province in China, the epicentre of the outbreak. We have advised travelers to Wuhan in China to restrict contact with livestock and livestock produce as well as with ill patients. NCDC has also advised any travelers from Wuhan, China with symptoms to report to NCDC on arrival in Nigeria.
Is this more deadly than Ebola considering the speed at which it spreads?
Based on current reports, the 2019 n-CoV has moderate transmissibility and relatively low pathogenicity. Most deaths have occurred in patients who are older or have underlying health issues. But we are learning every hour.
What specifically should Nigerians do to prevent themselves against Coronavirus disease?
Nigerians are advised to remain calm. The Federal Ministry of Health through NCDC and its partners are fully committed to strengthening our preparedness and response to infectious disease outbreaks. Our advice to travelers from China is to report immediately to a port health officer on entry or to NCDC, if they feel ill.
In addition, members of the public are advised to adhere to preventive measures, like several other infectious diseases; wash your hands regularly with soap under running water; cover your mouth and nose properly with handkerchief or tissue paper when sneezing and/or coughing. You may also cough into your elbow if handkerchief is not available; avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illnesses such as coughing and sneezing; and avoid self-medication, report to the nearest health facility when you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms. Healthcare workers are always advised to observe standard infection prevention and control measures when attending to patients and take a travel history
How many people so far have died and have been infected?
As at January 25, 2020, there are 1,287 confirmed cases with 41 deaths across China and 11 other countries.
Reporter’s note: Latest news from the Coronavirus outbreak, as at yesterday, shows 132 persons have died from the virus, with over 6200 persons infected. At least, 19 countries have so far been affected.
Has FG deployed a special funding for this?
The Honourable Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, has recently approved an additional disbursement of the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) for public health emergencies. This fund is to strengthen our preparedness and response capacities for disease outbreaks.