Press Release on World Health Day 2020

We at the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, CEHRD, join the rest of the world in commemorating this year’s World Health Day. The World Health Day is a significant international day of commemoration as it is seen as an opportunity by the World Health Organization to draw worldwide attention to a subject of major importance to global health each year. Since its inception at the first Health Assembly in 1948, the commemoration has aimed to create awareness of specific health theme to highlight a priority area of concern. Incidentally, this year’s commemoration day is unique as there is a global cry and attention over the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s theme “to support nurses and midwives” seeks to recognize the vital role of nurses and other health workers. Unarguably, one cannot over emphasize the role of nurses and other health workers in the task of promoting and maintaining health. However, the 2020 commemoration day comes at a time when the world is craving for the services of doctors, nurses and other health workers. This raises concern for the number, and capacity of available health workers and the motivation of same. In the face of COVID-19 pandemic, one may be worried if world giants like the United State of America, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany could be overwhelmed by a single strain of virus. If these world powers are brought to their knees by the virus, developing countries like Nigeria where health infrastructure and facilities are at the infantry stage are now faced with serious threat.

As such, the fate of Nigeria should be of great concern if these great countries could literally cry out for help. Why? These countries have strong existing health systems and structures with good number of health workers and relevant expertise, well-motivated remuneration with very supportive environmental conditions. Despite these favourable conditions, they were still overwhelmed by COVID-19. COVID 19 testing for example, these world powers screen a minimum of three thousand persons per day for COVID-19 accounting for the dramatic rise in positive cases identified. How many persons are tested per day in Nigeria? Certainly far less, hence our slow but progressive increase in the number of positive cases. It must be emphasized that timing is KEY in the treatment and recovery process. An asymptomatic positive case has a better treatment outcome than a symptomatic case. Hence, the pace of our screening process should be reviewed and re-organized to step up the testing process. This is a facility deficit issue, and developing countries like Nigeria must wake up to it. This is the time to invest funds that served medical tourism purposes to improve our health systems and the health work force.

In Nigeria, in addition to elementary medical facilities and manpower, the triad of ignorance, illiteracy and poverty may compound the COVID-19 pandemic if the containment measures fail. Globally, regular hand washing, use of alcohol based hand sanitizers, avoidance of crowded environment, minimizing contact and use of face mask etc are acceptable precautionary measures. There are protocols to the application of these precautionary measures. For example, face mask should be changed after 24 hours. Regrettably, many now use the mask for weeks, in worse cases, citizens use same mask in the market, church and other public places and return with same mask to their homes, exposing members of their household at risk of the disease.

In times like this, when fear is obvious and real, approach to combating COVID-19 should be all inclusive. Government’s sincerity to protecting lives and properties should be paramount and the view of other stakeholders including the Nigeria Medical Association, Joint Health Workers Union and Civil Society groups etc should be considered. For instance, the planned invitation of Chinese Doctors by the Federal Government of Nigeria, is a thought that a critical stakeholder such as the Nigeria Medical Association considers unhealthy. Foreigners from endemic countries poses more danger than help. What our Government should prioritize now is to strengthen our health systems and motivate the work force. In Nigeria, a medical doctor is entitled to hazard allowance of five thousand Naira monthly.  Compare this to the newspaper allowance of a Nigeria lawmaker that is over a million naira monthly.

The Centre for Environment Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), having monitored the situation in Nigeria, with particular reference to Rivers State in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, hereby recommends as follows:

1)    Government at all levels should recognize the significant roles of nurses and other health workers in line with the theme of 2020 world health day. They should be well motivated, and good working environment created for them.

2)    Nigerians should be encouraged to adhere to all standard precautionary measures such as regular washing of hands, use of hand sanitizers, avoidance of crowded environment

3)    Government policies should consider precautionary measures in line with socio-economic and environmental peculiarities in the face of the pandemic in Rivers State

4)    Governments at all levels should drive the lock down order with welfare packages

5)    The Federal Government should review the current COVID-19 testing modalities; decentralize the process to accommodate more persons that have had contact.

6)    Agencies of Government should respect the right of Nigerians in the face of COVID-19 lock down.

DR. NABIE, NUBARI FRANCIS

Head, Health and Community Development

Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD)

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