Posted by News Express | 28 March 2020 | 8,307 times
Short of saying that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has endangered millions of Nigerians by its handling of the rampaging coronavirus (Covid–19), a member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Simon Elisha Karu, narrated his harrowing experience to ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA. Excerpts…
Why couldn’t you conclude your programme during your recent trip to the US?
I was selected among the 20 participants of the Premier International Visitors Leadership programme, two of us were selected from Nigeria to attend the programme in the United States of America.
We were selected by the United States Department of States (USPS) and we were expected to tour round five cities, but unfortunately, we toured only two cities. We toured Washington DC, Jackson Mississippi and Charlotte, Virginia.
I left the country on February 29 but the programme was cut short due to the alarming state of affected individuals affected the outbreak of the coronavirus in the US and we were all told to return home. The programme officially closed on March 12 and we were told to leave immediately. We travelled to the US with Lufthansa but couldn’t return with Lufthansa because of the restriction on flights and so we came back with British Airways.
Didn’t the Federal Government’s travel restriction affect you?
We left the US on March 13, and we returned to Nigeria through Abuja airport on March 15, before the travel ban. We travelled on the night of March 13 and we had a laid over at the Heathrow and we arrived on the morning of March 15 in Abuja.
Didn’t you self-isolate as required?
When we got to the airport, we met the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) staff on the ground, who actually distributed forms to us to fill. After we left the airport, I took some days off in self-isolation, away from my family. After five days, I realised that I still didn’t develop any symptom; I decided to go home to my family.
Where did you stay during your period of self–isolation?
I went to a private apartment where I keep my guests and I didn’t have anybody living there at the time. After I realised that I wasn’t developing any symptom as I was following it online, I decided to go home.
How long where you at the apartment?
I was there for five days before deciding to leave. My expectation was that the NCDC would do a follow up with phone calls to those individuals that they collected their numbers and data at the airport. My concern was that they shouldn’t just put up a showoff at the airport and then do nothing about it.
How do you mean by ‘putting up a showoff’?
I became concerned and consequently, I began to see the NCDC and the Federal Ministry of Health making a public show of political officers rather than looking at the health situation and how it affects the common man. I am a member of the House of Representatives but I travel with a lot of other people who are not members of the National Assembly and who were not also politicians but they are also potential carriers of this virus.
But the attention of the NCDC was identifying members of the political class who had travelled rather than looking for the whereabouts of the virus. This virus doesn’t have a class rather it looks for a body to cohabit and then move to the next person.
I think the interest of the NCDC in identifying the political class who had travelled is the least of the approach to this matter.
Onboard the airplane, you find very few politicians who are on the business class and a whole lot of people who are on the economy class, so, if you concentrate on the political class, what about those people who will now move to the high density area? We can even say that the politicians move to their own homes with a very limited numbers but the rest of the people on the economy class are even more likely to join public transport, move along with people in crowded areas and get to infect people without developing any symptom.
But people were advised to self–isolate on return from their travels.
The way at which self–isolate was advised was wrong because, for me, you don’t tell somebody to self-isolate at the airport and you don’t follow up to check what that person had done. I expected that the Federal Ministry of Health should have pushed that the Federal Government insist on monitoring, even if it means for a few number of days, they monitor you for at least four, five days and then you can now proceed on self–isolation at your own place of choice.
So that if you don’t get to show early signs of cough or sour throat in the first five days because these symptoms generally present within the first seven days. And so, if people don’t present those symptoms in those numbers of days then the person can proceed to self–quarantine for the next seven days on his own.
Why didn’t you contact the NCDC after your five days in self-isolation?
We contacted them until the 11th day. I was not the only person because I was with two other members of the House of Representatives who had also travelled. We went to their public health laboratory in Abuja, we met a staff, who told us that they don’t receive blood sample but that they only receive sample from the other office.
I think from their staff who are contact-tracing individuals. But he gave us a number to call not even the general call or toll number that the public is given. We called and spoke with the personnel who asked why I wanted to do the test.
Where these two House members on the same flight with you?
No, they were not on the same flight with me but they had already gone beyond the 14 days of returning from their travels. But all we wanted to do was ensure that our blood sample didn’t carry the virus or maybe ours is a rare case that we may even pass the 14 days without any form of symptom and still be carriers.
We wanted to be scientifically and medically sure that as of the time we did the test, that we actually don’t have the virus. So that whatever we get to do subsequently we would now know how to trace wherever it is going from.
But the NCDC staff told us that they would only get to screen us if they ascertain that we need testing before they can test us. And that he can’t guarantee whether they can send their staff to test us on that day or the day after but that we should send him a text message, he will get back to us. We left in shock! But the same NCDC has broadcast the news everywhere that they are chasing after House of Representatives members who had travelled and are refusing to be tested.
Does that mean that they still did not get back to you till now?
They still did not, there is no call from them to any of us. But I had to call certain individuals who work in NCDC that I know, to make enquiries about NCDC’s preparedness to actually handle this present problem. Based on what I gathered we have only one testing centre in the entire North, which is in Abuja.
So, the whole of the North is being serviced by only this point and the number of the contact-tracing individual is too little to match up with the numbers of the travellers that are coming around. What this means therefore, is that NCDC did not take this as an emergency situation.
But they have been carrying out similar efforts in the past. What could have gone wrong?
This matter is similar to Lassa fever and they also have implementing partners, who have been running HIV/AIDS projects around the country for decades. We expected that they would, in an emergency situation like this, use these implementing partners.
They are resource-based individuals, people who will just do counseling and be able to get samples or be able to identify people who are at high risk. This is an emergency situation that we need urgent steps to be ready to curb this matter. But if NCDC is telling us that for two days, there is no possibility that we will get somebody to attend to us, then I can imagine what this issue will look like if it gets further than it is now.
Have you seen your personal physician since then?
I have been relating with my personal physician to know what my situation looks like but I have not been given a blood sample to that effect. But I feel healthy, I am fine.
What does this tell you about the government handling of the situation?
In my own opinion, this matter is not treated as pandemic rather it is being treated as a case from a foreign country that does not have the potential to actually affect Nigerians because people are playing politics with it.
Based on your experience now how do we get the government to be more proactive in its handling of the situation?
NCDC should increase its personnel, using implementing partners, those people who have ran projects relating to Lassa fever, relating to HIV/AIDS and they have a pool of personnel who could be good counselors and who can volunteer to participate in these activities because NCDC cannot do it alone.
So, I suggest that NCDC should go back to the forms collected by them and trace those individuals who have come in from these high-risk countries within the last one-month to know what had been the situation with them.
We are beginning to see members of the political class testing positive, how do you react to this development?
Now they have been able to trace only the activities of the political class and a number of them who actually travelled have been confirmed positive, what it means therefore, is that the numbers that NCDC is projecting on the screen of our television is not the true situation of cases in Nigeria.
What we have are lower numbers because we have not tested enough people to be able to ascertain that these people actually have it. What it means is that these few numbers that we have tested among the political class, there is a greater numbers of the other class of persons who have actually moved around.
Would you agree to a total lockdown of the country?
I recommend a total lockdown for a number of days so that every other case that we have should be curtailed at the locations that they are and not being spread around as it is now. My point here is, let NCDC go back to the forms that they have and actually trace those individuals. That is a starting point to identifying locations. So that government can send individuals to check on them and know their health status.
Does this also mean that the Presidential Taskforce is also not doing enough?
We are not feeling the impact of the presidential taskforce, what we need are people on the field. The taskforce is not a research team but we need people on the ground to do the work. We require people who are doing research and who are doing the background checks and people on the field to go and identify what is happening. We only need what the symptoms are. What is the presidential taskforce doing if people are not on the field? (New Telegraph)
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