Thursday, March 4, 2021 3:05 pm
By Femi Onasanya
The fear was untold on February 27, 2020 when Nigeria recorded its first case of Coronavirus which was incidentally found in Ogun State. The index case was an Italian national who entered Nigeria from Milan two days earlier on a business visit. The man fell ill on February 26 and was transferred to Lagos State Biosecurity Laboratory where he was tested positive to the dreaded Covid-19 disease.
Without delay, Ogun State Government under the leadership of Prince Dapo Abiodun, suddenly became the talk of all just as public health specialists began to throng the state from all corners. The likes of World Health Organisation ( WHO), Nigeria Center for Disease Control ( NCDC), United Nations Children Fund ( UNICEF) , among other stakeholders thronged the State to contribute their quota in an effort to contain the pandemic.
The Governor immediately addressed a World Press Conference where he assured the public of government readiness to face the situation squarely within leaving anything to chance just as he called for calm from all corners.
As a proactive government, the Ministry of Health, ably led by the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Tomi Coker, set up the Emergency Operation Center ( EOC) on February 28, 2020 where activities towards fighting the pandemic would be analysed, assessed and thoroughly fine-tuned regularly. The EOC consists of six pillars where intervention steps are streamlined. These include Surveillance, Risk Communication, Laboratory, Logistics, Infection Prevention and Control ( IPC) , and Coordination. Invariably, the Ogun State Government faced the situation bravely just as it was responding alongside building capacity.
Within 72 hours of the outbreak, the Ogun State Government deployed a mobile application to various health centers to track any Covid-19 case in the nook and cranny of the state. This move was followed by the training of health officials in primary health centers who are known to be the closest facilities to the people. Shortly afterwards, the state deployed a self-assessment mobile application for members of the public to determine the risk of residents’ exposure to the disease. Also, the Infection Prevention and Control Pillar conducted training for over 6,000 teachers in Primary and Secondary Schools given their sensitive roles in curbing the speed of the disease among school-age children.
Since the disease is novel among mankind, the Ogun State Ministry of Health took its sensitization campaign to religious centers, prisons, markets, traditional rulers, among others while it carried out a robust media engagement in a bid to create awareness about the non-pharmaceutical guidelines to contain the pandemic. The government engaged the traditional media, social media as well as below the line publicity tools such as posters, stickers etc to educated the public.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria, the Prince Abiodun led government was putting an isolation center that will cater for Lassa Fever patients in place at the Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital ( OOUTH), Sagamu, but it had remodel to take care of Covid-19 given the urgent need to put measures in place to address the situation. The government put up isolation centers in Ikenne, Iberekodo in Abeokuta and Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta respectively. In all, Ogun State had over 600-bed spaces for both low risk and high risk individuals that may come down with Covid-19.
It should be noted that at the time the nation was at the height of the pandemic with obvious lack of ventilators for high risk cases, the Ogun State Government procured ventilators, x-ray machines, oxygen delivery system in addition to the existing ones within its facilities. The government also set aside a 10- bedded Intensive Care Unit in Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta in case of any need for it. The present administration also ensured that it had about 24 ventilators ready for any emergency situation across its selected facilities without as a way of being proactive amidst the Coronavirus pandemic.
It is on record that Ogun was the first state to put up a state-owned molecular laboratory in the country in line with its passionate drive to ensure the safety of its people. The second molecular laboratory which the state is proud of today was donated by a private company as part of its contributions to the efforts to contain the pandemic. Obviously, there are a number of private laboratories which have since been in operation in the state to provide support for government-owned laboratories. This move had helped to improve the turn-around time for the tests being carried out in the state.
In addition, Ogun was the first to introduce home care management for asymptomatic patients in order to reduce overcrowding in the various isolation centers having thoroughly put checks in place to prevent further spread of the disease at home. This approach is today being replicated in different parts of the country.
Commendably, the weekly press briefing of Governor Dapo Abiodun, which kept the people abreast of the situation of the pandemic in the state and the government’s next move, went a long way in dousing tension and educating residents. On her part, the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Coker, in the heat of the public health crisis was busy moving from one television and radio station to another in Lagos and Ogun State to inform the general public about the Ogun State situation and the government efforts.
At the peak of the pandemic, when all states were locked down, the Ogun State approach was different from its counterparts. It was given to opening the markets and allowing some commercial activities every 48-hour during week days between 7am and 3pm. This was borne out of the need to allow residents to make some money and re-stock their homes. It also helped to reduce the level of insecurity occasioned by lack of funds on the part of traders, masons and many other people in the informal sector because an idle hand is the devil’s workshop.
Despite the fact that Ogun is bordered by Lagos State which is a major epicenter of Covid-19 in Nigeria with over 55,000 cases as at February 27, 2021, the Gateway State till date has a record of less than 4,500 cases and less than 50 deaths as at the same day. This wouldn’t have been possible but for the creative approaches employed to contain the virus. It could be recalled that in October 2020, the state government began free community testing across its 20 local government areas with a target of having 50,000 people tested by the end of December 2020. This figure represents one percent of Ogun State population which should be tested as stipulated by the Nigeria Center for Disease Control ( NCDC). It was not a surprise when Dr. Coker announced at the end of the year 2020 that the state has surpassed the set goal by more than 10,000.
The decentralized testing method enabled the state government to have an idea of the prevalence of the disease across all locations in the state which was said to be at 0.6% by December 2020. Hence, when the second wave of the pandemic came knocking, the prevalence rate, according to the Commissioner for Health went up by 10% but the state was able to tackle it head on.
In the same vein, Ogun State Government is the first state to insure lives of its health workers against Covid-19. This was in a bid to encourage them in the life -saving vocation, improves their morale and assured that of government’s support amidst the pandemic. The present administration also went ahead to increase the hazard allowance of all its health workers by 15% throughout the period of the pandemic. In order to further ensure its interest in workers welfare, the Prince Abiodun led government also did a salary adjustment for all its health officials across the length and breadth of the state.
Without mincing words, since the pandemic entered Nigeria a year ago, health workers in Ogun State have no reason to lack Personal Protective Equipment ( PPE) in all its primary, secondary and tertiary health facilities considering the commitment of the government to the safety of its workforce.
When it was time to re-open schools and religious centers, the Ogun State Task Force on Covid-19 ensured that it left no stone unturned. It visited the three senatorial districts of the state and conducted inspection of churches and mosques to be sure that they meet the set standards for re-opening. This is in line with the State Government decision that it would not toy with the public health in the name of bias or any form of sentiment.
When the second wave began to rear its ugly head, the state government designated its Infectious Disease Hospital, Iberekodo, Abeokuta as the Oxygen Therapy Center for other health facilities. The decision was to make sure that the state did not run out of oxygen in the midst of scarcity.
Recently, the State Task Force on Covid-19 have begun enforcing the wearing of face masks in public places which the government is passionate about as one of the very stringent measures that can reduce the spread of the virus. The Ogun State Government understands that cooperation will fast-track the efficacy of scientific efforts. Hence, the Task Force is all out across the state to enforce obedience.
Though Ogun had contained the pandemic to this extent, it should be noted that it is not yet uhuru. Hence, the need for all and sundry to adhere strictly to state government directives and non-pharmaceutical guidelines.
Femi Onasanya is a press officer in Ogun State Ministry of Health