COVID-19 in Nigeria: A tale of denial and deaths

The death of both former governor of Oyo State, Abiola Ajimobi and a senator representing Lagos East Senatorial District at the Upper Legislative Chamber of the National Assembly, Sikiru Adebayo Osinowo in past weeks has added to the growing number of high profile personalities in the country who had lost the battle to COVID-19 complications.

Until his death on June 25, the 70-year-old Ajimobi, who was governor from 2011 to 2019 had reportedly been on a life support machine at the First Cardiology and Cardiovascular Consultants Hospital, Lagos, where he had been receiving treatment.

He was said to be managing the illness at home before the situation became severe in May and he had to be taken to hospital.

Like other high profile big wigs, the ex-governor was said to have chosen a private health facility in place of an isolation centre after his condition worsened. Despite the efforts of the hospital, Ajimobi eventually died from COVID-19 complications.

Ajimobi’s death was similar to that of the former chief of staff to the presidency, Abba Kyari who also died at the First Cardiology Hospital in Lagos on April 17 after nearly a month struggle with complications of COVID-19.

Popular African-American on-air-personality, Dan Foster, is another prominent individual who also recently surrendered to the viral disease currently ravaging the world.

However, it would be recalled that a former managing director of Pipelines and Products Marketing Company, Sulaiman Achimugu, who died on March 23 was recorded by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control as Nigeria’s first casualty of COVID-19 after the country’s index case in late February.

Nevertheless, as of June 30, Nigeria has recorded 25,694 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 9,746 patients have been treated and discharged and there have been 590 fatalities in 35 states including the Federal Capital Territory.

However, there are still thousands, if not millions of Nigerians still living in denial and believing that the COVID-19 story is a spurious tale. To them, the viral pandemic is a hoax. 

Many of them are quick to back the numerous conspiracy theories making the round on social media platforms. They are the most difficult to convince to abide by the NCDC guidelines aimed at curtailing the spread of the rampaging pandemic in the country.

Nevertheless, COVID-19 is daily killing Nigerians, mostly those with other underlying health conditions. This disease is afflicting and killing without discrimination. Both the lowly and the mighty have died from COVID-19 based on NCDC reports. Many of those that have succumbed to death as a result of COVID-19 complications are even the educated and upper-class Nigerians. 

According to Nigeria’s minister of health, Osagie Ehanire, a considerable number of educated and well-to-do Nigerians constitute many of COVID-19 fatalities in the country.

“A disturbing picture emerging from statistics is that not only are most fatalities observed to be linked with preexisting diseases, but many are also educated, well-to-do people, who chose home-based care, where they developed sudden complication and have to be rushed to the hospital,” he said.

A medical website, WebMD further identified COVID-19 complications as acute life-threatening challenges which may include acute respiratory failure, pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, liver injury, cardiac injury, kidney injury, septic shock, disseminated intravascular coagulation, blood clots and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.

It must be noted that a major challenge with preventing the spread of COVID-19 and reduce fatalities from the condition is that some patients don’t disclose to physicians that they are infected when they go to hospitals for treatment for other health conditions. Also, some of those that tested positive to the virus do not disclose their underlying health conditions. Even when they do, the disclosure does not come early enough.

The Medical Director of St Edward Specialist Hospital, Ajah, Lagos, Dr. Emeka Okocha, confirmed this, noting that many patients often lied about their medical history.

“We didn’t treat any COVID-19 patient. A hypertensive diabetic came in with the symptoms. The patient came to see me based on a diabetic’s symptom because I am a cardiologist.

“He had complications of hypertension and diabetes and based on these, I decided to admit him. That was on Saturday evening.

“The following day, which was Easter Sunday, officials of the NCDC came to the hospital. I didn’t invite them; they came and said the man was a known contact of a person with COVID-19.”

A frustrated Okocha expressed disappointment that such a patient could lie to him, adding that had he disclosed having contact with suspected COVID-19 persons, he could have referred him to the designated centres treating coronavirus patients.

“I believed what he had was just the complications of hypertension and diabetes, which had the same symptoms as COVID. He had heart failure, cough and breathlessness.

“You cannot differentiate, so I asked him, ‘Have you had contact with anyone with COVID-19?’ He said no. ‘Did you travel outside the country recently?’ He said no. He said he came to see a cardiologist because of diabetes and hypertension complications,” he bemoaned.

This unacceptable trend must be stopped if the nation is to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Also, the deaths so far recorded, especially those of notable individuals should serve as a wake-up call to many Nigerians who are still in denial about the existence of the novel coronavirus.

On March 18, a Nigerian polling service, NOIPolls announced that 26 per cent of Nigerians were in doubt as to the existence of the disease.

The NOIPolls noted that while some claimed they are protected by their religion from contracting COVID-19, some believed their strong genes, alcohol and hot climate were the antidotes to COVID-19.

Even though these myths have since been debunked by the NCDC, and several medical professionals in the country, many are still holding on to their belief that COVID-19 is not real.

The Nigerian government, therefore, needs to do more in the area of enlightenment campaign to educate these Nigerians still in denial.

The fact is that as long as they carry on with the notion that the pandemic is a ruse, efforts to contain the spread of the viral infection will continue to fall short.

Even though a lot has been done on education already, a lot more has to be done as COVID-19 can only be contained when all citizens are on the same page, acting responsibly to prevent further spread of the viral disease.

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