Addressing COVID-19 Rumours in Nigeria

By Masara Kim

Recently, the Federal Government announced restrictions and guidelines towards containing the novel coronavirus disease. Discovered in Wuhan, Hubei, China, in December 2019, the disease has killed over 80,000 people, with more than 1 million cases across the world. Due to its rapid transmission rate, the disease was declared a global emergency in January 2020 and a pandemic on March 11, 2020.Nigeria recorded its first case on February 27, 2020 from a returning Italian businessman and has so far reported over 40 cases with one death.

Lai Mohammed-Nigeria's Information Minister

Lai Mohammed-Nigeria’s Information Minister

Until its arrival, Nigeria was faced with insecurity and other serious challenges that limited funding the health sector. However, this is not the first time the country is facing this kind of challenge. In 2014, the country made a historic breakthrough in the fight against the even deadlier Ebola virus disease which claimed 11,500 lives in three African countries within weeks.

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

It should be noted that the Ebola virus disease has a 90 per cent fatality rate. The new COVID-19, on the other hand, has less than 4 per cent fatality rate, which tends to be lower in persons below 70 years old. This fatality rate is far lower compared to Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, which has 9.6 per cent and the Middle East respiratory syndrome, which has 35 per cent fatality.

Moreover, research has shown that, of all confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide, only five per cent are critical. Over 80 per cent of the confirmed cases are mild, and just about 14 per cent are moderate. What this means is that the majority of the patients currently being treated for the disease are likely to recover. In fact, more than one hundred and fifteen thousand people previously diagnosed with the disease have recovered, with two from Nigeria.

Also worthy of mention is the fact that no death has been reported among mild and moderate cases. Its fatality has so far been limited to critical cases and people with preexisting conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, hypertension and cancer.

Unarguably, global response presently focuses on research and managing symptoms as there is no clinically certified 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. Official records show that, over the last three years, the Federal Ministry of Health has strengthened its National Reference Laboratory to provide molecular diagnosis for all epidemic-prone diseases and highly infectious pathogens such as the new COVID-19. Recently,  multi-sectoral Coronavirus Preparedness Group, led by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), activated its National Emergency Operations Centre to respond and implement firm control measures.

Dr. Osagie Ehanire-Nigeria's Health Minister

Dr. Osagie Ehanire-Nigeria’s Health Minister

These and other related measures show that Nigeria is going against all odds to face 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 is wrong information.

Without mincing words, epidemics worldwide are escalated epidemics of rumours. This is the rapid and arbitrary spread of wrong and unverified information through mobile phones, social media and other communication channels. In times of serious infectious outbreaks like this, such actions can cause the application of wrong and harmful therapies, public reluctance to adopt well-founded infection control measures, panic, anxiety and even death.

That is why accurate and timely information is very crucial. The federal and state governments have commenced media sensitization on ways to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. The Nigerian Red Cross Society, among other independent bodies, has since before the confirmation of the first case of the disease in the country, launched and sustained public enlightenment on its prevention. This is in addition to the deployment of thousands of trained volunteers to manage the disease across the country.

However, civil society groups, media organizations, professional unions and public health professionals, among others, must make sacrifices to ensure its success. In doing this, the latest and most accurate information must be conveyed frequently. Also, 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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