Covid-19: Of misgivings and doubters

Covid-19: Of misgivings and doubters

Saturday, May 16, 2020 1:06 pm

Steve Aborisade

Our Covid-19 intervention continues to receive hard knocks from doubters, those who must oppose everything government and others who are just perennial busy bodies. Recently, knocks have also come from unexpected quarters. Those it seems we expect to understand and who should rather have kept quiet or be more guided.

I am not sure to what extent such expectations actually helps us and, we may objectively have no justification to lambast those genuinely expressing concerns about the treatment they got at the Covid-19 isolation centres and, about the nature and manifestation of the virus in Nigeria.

We must admit that communication about the pandemic from day one was shaky and have not been too consistent with the clarity needed for the kind of understanding and cooperation we seek. I think it is fair to admit that till date, millions of Nigerians are in the dark about the actual nature of this pandemic.

I am not advancing excuses for the authorities, but the novel nature of the virus may be one reason for the dearth of information about its exactness. The panic and fear that heralds it’s coming is another consideration, as well as the need to be absolutely cautious and certain with what is being communicated. Coupled with the fact that ours is such that openness is a desired end. Whereas, communication in a public health emergency must be simple, have clarity and be open.

Immediately after the easing of lockdown, not a few people agreed that communication about our Covid-19 intervention requires urgent review. There were gaps to be filled. The first indication for me was the perceived personal risk assessment of our people – the tendency for individuals to feel they are at risk, which was very low. Another indicator was impact communication by the authorities and how that rhetoric was strongly embedded in politics rather than in public health literacy. So also was a lack of coordination of information, with controversial statements from high profile Nigerians about their Covid-19 management experiences and healing process, which trivialised the pandemic.

These were of course preceded by wrongful labelling of the virus which was left unchallenged for a considerable period of time by the supervising agencies. Importantly was also the mis – communicated and perhaps mispracticalised applications of quarantine and isolation. These two concepts were made to look scary, driving fear into the populace, compounded by reports of the number of deaths being recorded in the West, especially Italy and the US. Again is the framing from our mass media and the tendency for sensationalism. At a point, even from official communications channels, these terms were used interchangeably. You hear of quarantine and self isolation, without any distinguishing details. People who travel in were asked to ‘self isolate’ for 14 days! Whereas quarantine may also have referenced those in government isolation centres.

Quarantine is for people or groups who may have been exposed to the symptoms but asymptomatic, while isolation is for those who are already contagious. In our case, this distinction may have been muddled up as we have those in the first category also admitted into isolation centres, which gave rise to misgivings that our own Covid-19 may be a fluke from commentaries of some individuals who received no treatment till they were discharged.

With the knowledge that 80%-90% of those infected won’t be needing hospitalization, maybe we should have moderated how we amplified the isolation protocol. Our application of isolation may not have fully considered the fact that majority testing positive won’t be needing hospitalization, otherwise, maybe the decision to ramp every positive cases into isolation could have been differently done.

The climate of disbelief started with some patients in isolation centres feeling detained having presented with no symptoms and not falling sick. Several were released after days of being administered with dosages of Vitamins. Several primarily recovered on their own without any real intervention, which suggested they hadn’t needed to be in isolation in the first place. With these realities, questions were being asked, doubts were formed because we failed to properly provide these contexts to our people with clarity. Questions still lingers about our discharged figures, regarding the percentage of that category which never needed to be there at all.

Importantly, our experience here is at total variance with coverage by the Western media which projected the virus as the great plague, with thousands dying and thousands others languishing on hospital beds. It may be to early to actually conclude here, as we objectively can’t predict how the pandemic will eventually shape out. But there were grounds for misgivings, which prompted the wrong notion that Covid-19 does not affect blacks the same way as whites or that our weather is a factor in its manifestation. These were never fully dispelled!

So maybe efforts could have gone to emphasise on the true nature of the virus more succinctly and let the people understand our peculiar trajectory better.

To be honest, the above scenarios are at best plausible speculation about what went wrong, I must admit that only those in the thick of the intervention are better placed to let us know what the challenges are. And they needed to now take stock, measure the situation and come at it better prepared.

Nevertheless, our speculation should be considered ripe for serious consideration moving forward. They hold certain degrees of truth.

We are where we are and, now, more difficult decisions would have to be taken to get us to safety. What is needed is for us to also play our part and appreciate the efforts of our frontline workers and those driving our intervention. They face an onerous task and require support.

It is preposterous for anyone to join unrepentant conspirators to demean the efforts that has gotten us thus far, even with its many imperfections, no matter your level of doubt. As it is, much of what is needed for success are individual’s effort to adhere to guidelines that are in place. And to those brandishing their healing dosages, that may be irresponsible. This is so because Covid-19 experiences so far has proven to be highly personalized and, differs from individual to individual. You can chose what to believe, but then, now is time for a common purpose.

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