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29.02.2020 Opinion

Addressing Epidemics Of Rumour As A First Approach To The New COVID-19 In Nigeria

By Masara Kim Usman
Addressing Epidemics Of Rumour As A First Approach To The New COVID-19 In Nigeria
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The Federal Ministry of Health recently confirmed the first case of COVID-19, otherwise known as Coronavirus Disease in Nigeria. The case, an Italian businessman in Lagos who just returned from Milan, has caused serious fear among many Nigerians.

No doubt, Coronavirus, a disease transmitted between humans and animals, has killed nearly 3000 people worldwide, with about 83,000 people currently infected. Due to its rapid transmission rate of about 2-3 new infections from one case, the disease was declared a global emergency in January 2020.

Indeed, Nigeria is currently faced with insecurity and other serious challenges that tend to limit funding to the health sector. However, given the historic breakthrough the country made in the fight against the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease in 2014, Nigerians have no need to fear the COVID-19 discovery. The Ebola virus disease posed a global health threat from 2013 to 2016 when it claimed an estimated 11,323 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

At the time the first Ebola case was confirmed in Nigeria in July 2014, not even the World Health Organization had declared a medical crisis. On confirming the death of a Liberian visitor however, Nigeria immediately declared a national state of emergency, and successfully neutralized the disease to the amazement of the world.

It should be noted that the Ebola virus disease has a 90% fatality rate. The new COVID-19, on the other hand, has less than 3% fatality, which is lower than an acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS with 9.6% fatality and the Middle East respiratory syndrome, MERS, which has 35% fatality.

Of all confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide, only 5% is critical. Over 80% of the cases are mild, and just about 14% are moderate. What this means is that the majority of the patients currently being treated with the disease are likely to recover.

Unarguably, global response presently focuses on research and managing symptoms, as there is no approved treatment for the disease yet. However, since the Ebola outbreak in 2014, Nigeria has moved from health emergency management to building effective response systems ahead of time to control outbreaks.

Over the last three years, the Federal Ministry of Health has strengthened its National Reference Laboratory to provide a molecular diagnosis for all epidemic-prone diseases and highly infectious pathogens such as the new COVID-19.

Also within the period, 22 states were supported to establish emergency operations centers in their domains. These serve as coordination platforms for all outbreaks, linked to the national incident coordination center. In December 2019, rapid response teams were trained in all 36 states of the Federation to immediately respond to any disease outbreak.

On discovering the disease in the country on February 27, 2020, a multi-sectoral Coronavirus Preparedness Group set up under the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) immediately activated its National Emergency Operations Centre to respond and implement firm control measures.

This shows that Nigeria is well prepared for the new global health challenge. However, epidemics are both medical and social problems that require multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder collaboration. This is so as to address all factors that drive and amplify outbreaks. Top among these factors recognized by global health managers as a dangerous risk to health is wrong information dissemination.

Epidemics worldwide are escalated by wrong and misleading information, classified by the World Health Organization as an Epidemic of rumours. This is the rapid spread of information of all kinds, including rumours, gossip, and unreliable information.

Wrong information spread through mobile phones, social media, the internet and other communication technologies in times of serious infectious outbreaks can cause the application of wrong and harmful therapies, public reluctance to adopt well-founded infection control measures, panic, anxiety and ultimately death.

This is why accurate and timely information is very crucial. The Nigerian Ministry of Health through the relevant agencies has commenced media sensitization on ways to prevent the spread of the new COVID-19. The Nigerian Red Cross Society among other independent bodies has since before the confirmation of the first case in Nigeria, launched and sustained public enlightenment on the disease. This is in addition to the deployment of thousands of trained volunteers to manage the disease across the country.

However, States, civil societies, media organizations, professional unions and among others, public health professionals must actively take part in the campaign to ensure its success. In doing this, the latest and most accurate information must be conveyed frequently. All uncertainties related to the disease must be promptly clarified to prevent the wrong individuals from confusing and scaring the public with diverse and often contradictory views on the disease.

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