Fighting a pandemic without PPE

Over five months after the outbreak of COVID-19 in Nigeria, health workers at the forefront of fighting the viral pandemic are still lamenting inadequate Personal Protective Equipment.

Many people had expected that Nigeria will be in a good position to respond appropriately to the outbreak of COVID-19, having defeated the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in 2014. 

The case of coronavirus has, however, been different. The nation has continued to record an increase in the number of confirmed cases going by the daily updates of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

Containment efforts have also been hampered by a poor health system and lack of needed PPE for health workers.

According to the NCDC, as at Sunday, August 2, Nigeria has recorded 43,841 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 20,308 patients have been treated and discharged while there have been 888 deaths in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

Despite the surge in the number of cases and its attendant impacts, Nigeria is still grappling with essential equipment needed by health workers to halt the spread of the viral pandemic. 

While the Federal Government has repeatedly referred to the ongoing fight against COVID-19 as a war, the government, unfortunately, has continued to fall short in providing the weapons needed to fight the war.

A major weapon that has been grossly inadequate is PPE needed by frontline health workers. These workers at the forefront of leading the onslaught against the viral pandemic have continued to lament that the PPE they require to effectively discharge their duty and combat the disease have been inadequate.

On Monday, June 15, members of the National Association of Resident Doctors, embarked on a nationwide strike that lasted for a week. Part of their grievances was the lack of provision of PPE by government.

Before the NARD strike, health personnel under the auspices of National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives in Enugu, Plateau and Kwara states had in April embarked on a similar protest for lack of PPE.

According to the NANNM, “Everyone knows about the danger of COVID-19 and it will be unfair on the side of government to expose our members to the virus without personal protection equipment.

“It is no longer news the havoc the ravaging virus is causing to doctors, nurses and midwives across the globe; we need protection if we must serve our fellow citizens as patriots.

“We have a shortage of PPE in our hospitals and isolation centres.”

It cannot be overemphasised that safeguarding the health and well-being of health workers is fundamental to the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

In fact, without the dedication of health workers who are putting their lives on the line by facing the challenge of treating those who contract the virus, the pandemic could have overwhelmed the nation’s health system.

Therefore, the provision of hand hygiene facilities and appropriate PPE has to be a priority of government if the battle against COVID-19 must be won.

Even before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were frequent strikes by health workers over working conditions.

However, inadequate access to PPE has to be seen as a major challenge to COVID-19 containment as it raises the risk of health workers to the viral infection.

The World Health Organisation has warned of the threat posed by COVID-19 to health workers across Africa.

According to the WHO, more than 10,000 health workers in the 40 countries which have reported COVID-19 infections have been infected with COVID-19 so far, a sign clear indication of the challenges medical staff on the frontlines of the outbreak are facing.

Already, no fewer than 812 healthcare workers have tested positive for COVID-19 in Nigeria, according to the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu.

The National Association of Resident Doctors reported on June 17 that 10 of its members have died from COVID-19 infection.

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire had on April 30 during a Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 briefing in Abuja, asked the health workers to reduce their risk to the COVID-19 pandemic by stringently following laid down standard on prevention and control measures at all times.

According to the minister, the country cannot afford to lose health workers at this crucial time.

Yet, the minister ignored their demand for PPE needed for their protection and safety in providing care for patients.

The Nigerian government must rise to its responsibility and provide the needs of health workers, especially what they need to fight this pandemic. 

There are no two ways to it, the Federal Government through the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 must come up with measures to once and for all address the problem of PPE shortage.

It must be stated that lack of funds cannot be a tenable excuse for not providing PPE as the government can use part of the funds donated by different organisations and individuals to provide this basic needs for health workers in the forefront of COVID-19 containment. 

The government perhaps may also have to deemphasise the importation of PPE and look inwards for homegrown solutions. 

The fact is that with some creative investment and empowerment of local industries, some of the PPE can be produced locally in no time.

This is thus the time for the Nigerian government must rise and do the needful and not wait for health workers to protest before providing them with PPE.

Leave a Replay