Important questions have started being asked about the future of the Nigerian health sector post COVID-19. The Nigerian Health sector has had its share of problems over the years. Many stakeholders have in various times and manner agitated that the different government administrations in Nigeria have not given the health sector the kind of attention it needed. There are calls for health sector reforms and interventions to improve health care in Nigeria and strengthen health infrastructure in the country, as well as the welfare of health workers.
No better time in history has the Nigerian health sector and health workers come out as the centre of attraction as during the COVID-19 pandemic which hit the whole world so strongly. The world celebrated and praised health workers in every country for their bravery as front-line workers during the pandemic. However, criticisms have come out concerning the deplorable state of the health infrastructure in various countries; including Nigeria.
Critiques have slammed the government for the inadequacies and gaps in the healthcare system of the country to effectively handle the COVID-19 pandemic which did not spare the country in its course. The Nigerian government however, have patted itself on the back for the interventions it put in place in response to the advent of the corona virus in the country.
Nigeria Not Left Unaffected
The novel corona virus, later named COVID-19, started from Wuhan, China late December 2019. It then spread across the world very quickly, making it a pandemic. Corona virus, which is very contagious, spreads fast from person to person or from infected surfaces to humans through the nose, mouth or eyes. This made countries around the globe to lock down their territories, restricting movements and gatherings of people, in order to protect the citizens.
The Nigerian government, in like manner, declared a lock down of all its borders and within the country, placing a ban on social gatherings and religious meetings. Government closed down schools, markets and all businesses in order to limit the spread of the virus.
In Nigeria, the first official case of COVID-19 was reported by late February 2020 in an Italian man who flew into the country for work purposes; although there were some speculations that the virus has been with us from the beginning of the year. COVID-19 cases in the country were reported by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to be increasing.
Most cases were in people with travel history to countries like China, UK, Italy, US and France, which were strongly hit by the pandemic. Local transmission of the corona virus soon afterwards were observed, as people without any travel history began showing symptoms of the disease. The symptoms of COVID-19 included fever, cough, sore throat, and difficulty in breathing.
Impact and Concerns
At least, over 450,000 deaths due to COVID-19 were reported in the world as at June 2020, with the numbers increasing. More than 8.5 million people, during the same period, were reported to be infected with the virus globally, with about 4.5 million recoveries as at June 2020. The fear and global anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic was exacerbated by the fact that there is no known cure or vaccine for this new disease which hit the world. The elderly, especially those with other underlying health conditions suffered greater risk of fatality from the corona virus.
The COVID-19 pandemic had more than just a health impact in the nations around the world. Economic activities and social life were literally brought to a halt across the world by the rather abrupt government imposed lock downs, pushing several countries to the brink of recession. Above all, the health sector in many countries was stretched to a great measure with reports of insufficient personal protective equipments (PPE’s) for health workers, ventilators for severe cases, and shortage of bed spaces to admit and isolate patients that tested positive.
The case in Nigeria was no exception at all. States across the country were placed on lock down with economic and social activities brought to a stand still as cases of new infections kept rising in the country. Among African countries, Nigeria ranks third in the highest number of reported COVID-19 cases, trailing behind Egypt and South Africa.
As at June 2020, the country has reported over 18,000 cases with over 4,500 deaths and more than 6,000 recoveries. This number shows there is 94% recovery rate for COVID-19 in Nigeria. The NCDC have been reporting daily increase in the number of new infections which has been attributed to the ease of the lock downs by the Federal government and several State governments late May and early June. States like Lagos, FCT Abuja, and Kano bear the highest burden of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria as at June 2020.
What The Future Holds
Like all pandemics, Covid-19 grows at an exponential rate, which means it grows rapidly with respect to time and it’s proportional to the number of cases. The government enforced social distancing, hand washing and compulsory wearing of face masks as safety measures. Lock down restrictions, however, are being lifted to allow for economic activities.
Experts have expressed concern over the exponential growth of new cases reported in the country. The main questions on the minds of many are, can our health sector handle this growth? Will our hospitals, health workers and the government be able to respond better in the event of a second wave or future pandemics? What really is the future of the Nigerian health sector post COVID-19 pandemic? Are we going to return to how things were for the health sector before the pandemic? These questions have become more profound in the recent strike by Nigerian doctors in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic when they are need the most.
One can say, without doubt, that he healthcare sector in Nigeria finally got the attention it needed for a very long time. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed several loop holes in the Nigerian health care system which have been ignored for a very long time. At the same time, it is clear that much more has been done by the federal and state governments to improve on health care infrastructure in the country and preparedness to manage health threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic. But clearly, much more still needs to be done especially in the welfare of healthcare workers if the future must be better than the past in the Nigerian health sector post COVID-19.
To gain more insight into the future of the Nigerian health sector post COVID-19, Medtrend Health spoke to one of the long practicing doctors. The health expert elaborated about the past and looked into the future of the Health care system in Nigeria. Dr Okafor Christopher is a Primary care physician who has spent over 17 years in his field.
Talking about what the healthcare system was like before the COVID-19 pandemic
“Before Covid-19, there have been other diseases of epidemic and sometimes of pandemic proportion that spring up from time to time. For example there is HIV, Ebola, Lassa Fever, Polio, Measeles and others. Some of these disease have been checkmated by the advent of vaccines and by simple observation of basic universal precautions,” says Dr.Okafor.
He pointed out that Nigeria has been handling these other diseases well but there have been outbreaks from time to time.
Talking about the present situation of the healthcare sector and future outlook
When asked about the present situation of the health sector, the health expert lamented about the current state of the healthcare sector.
“The health sector have been in a deplorable state. The government have not been able to meet the needs of the sector over the years; the sector have been in a state of neglect. Health practitioners in the public sector lack the basic facilities to work. Those in the private sector do not have access to adequate funding,” he lamented.
“COVID-19 exposed the terrible state of our health sector, and in my opinion, the government does not seems to have the will to do the right thing that should be focused on. The health sector requires funding. It should be well equipped and there should be avenues for training and retraining of health personnel,” Dr. Okafor added.
More Needs To Be Done
The Health Sector is not the only sector in Nigeria suffering at the moment. Nigeria’s educational system, which have had existent complains of being overlooked by the Government, is currently being strained. All schools have been closed and there seems to be insufficient solutions provided to catering for students who have now been forced to stay at home.
Concerned educational stakeholders have always said, “education is the key factor for achieving a long term economic progress.” That means the government will need to be more engaged with its interventions in these sectors.
At this point we have to ask, is there going to be an end to the COVID-19 cases in Nigeria, or are we going to experience exponential growth forever? Well the good news is “No.” There is a plethora of hopeful messages on news and social media by various concerned individuals and organizations on the roles Nigerians must play to bring an end to the COVID-19 crisis in the country.
Nigerians, and government at all levels needs to thrive to become like China and other countries who have been able to tackle the pandemic to a large extent. The final stage of an exponential growth is a logistic growth. This is when no new cases occur and the total number of cases is doesn’t change with respect to time. The Question is: Can we get there before it is too late?
Everyday, Nigeria’s daily cases looks to be increasing. Many are wondering if COVID-19 will strengthen Nigeria’s Health Sector or destroy it? Post COVID-19, are we going to learn from our past mistakes as a nation?