The first case of Covid-19 in Nigeria is under control, authorities claim

The first case of Covid-19 in Nigeria is under control, authorities claim
The office of Dr. Abimbola, medical director of Mainland Hospital Yaba, where Nigeria's coronavirus index case is being treated. (Photo: Tolulope Adeleru-Balogun)

The Nigerian government is letting Lagosians know its 17-20 million inhabitants should take precautions, but not panic.

In Africa, Egypt and Algeria were the first countries to confirm cases of Covid-19. 

On February 27 Nigerian authorities announced their first case. The affected individual, an Italian consultant, had entered Nigeria through Lagos, before travelling to the neighbouring Ogun state. When he developed flu-like symptoms, his host company contacted health officials who went from Lagos to Ogun state to bring him back to Lagos. Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, hosts one of Nigeria’s virology laboratories which is part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. 

In a media release on 28 February, Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire said “the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, immediately activated its national Emergency Operations Centre and was working closely with Lagos State Health authorities to respond to this case and implement firm control measures”.

The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria shared its precautions on social media — from disinfection, to screening, to officials wearing gloves and face masks. It was established that the Italian had been screened upon arrival at Murtala International Airport, Lagos, but showed no symptoms. 

Dr Bowale Abimbola, the medical director of the Mainland Hospital, in the neighbourhood of Yaba in Lagos, leads the team that is treating the index patient. Abimbola said they have been following the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. He confirmed that the patient presented at the hospital with a fever of 37.5 degrees, which lasted a few days.

The WHO recommends that patients are tested every two to four days, a protocol the team is following. Abimbola confirmed that the patient has responded well to the supportive treatment he is receiving but cautioned against putting a timeline on when the patient would be discharged.

He said “this is our first patient, and the virus is a new one… It would be pretty difficult for us to say he will only stay in isolation for two weeks or three weeks. We will keep on doing the tests for him and when the viral load is no longer detected, that’s when we can say he is cured.” 

On the issue of personal protective equipment, Abimbola said they had everything they needed. “It would be foolish of me to go into the ward without being assured of being properly protected or allow a team member to go into the ward when I know they would be infected. We have adequate PPEs and if we need more the ministry will supply.”

Abimbola learnt about containment during the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak when he and his team were trained by foreign experts. Representatives from the WHO, the African Union and the NCDC are observing this case. 

Abimbola says while there are a few labs across the country that could test for Covid-19, Lagos has the only level three biosecurity lab, not just in Nigeria, but in the whole of West Africa. 

Dr. Abimbola with some staff of the Mainland Hospital, Yaba. (Photo: Tolulope Adeleru-Balogun)

Rumours on Nigerian social media about the possibility of chloroquine preventing one from getting the virus is debunked by the doctor:  

“Using chloroquine as a preventive measure does not work and it will not work.” 

He said the only thing that could stop you from getting Covid-19 is proper hygiene. Wash your hands. If you have a cough or are sneezing use a mask and ensure that your hands do not touch your face. Keep some distance between yourself and others. 

He cautioned Nigerians to be aware of what they read and share on social media regarding Covid-19 and ensure they get their information from the proper sources. 

While the WHO has upgraded the global risk of the Covid-19 outbreak to its top level of risk assessment, it had previously identified Nigeria as one of its 13 high-priority countries in Africa. At the end of January, the United Nations’ Health Agency listed Algeria, Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia as high priority countries because of direct links or a high volume of travel to China.

The WHO country representative, Clement Peter, told Daily Maverick there was a collective responsibility at all levels and commended the Nigerian government’s response and approach to handling the index case.

He asked Nigerians to be wary of fake news and rumours concerning Covid-19.

“The correct information will come from the Ministry of Health or the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. In a way it is not about the virus now, it is more about the rumours and the bad news. When people spread alarm, this creates fear among the people, which is not good.”

The director-general of the NCDC and other officials have been doing the media rounds to inform the public on what is being done to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Nigeria. Daily situation reports are published. They have put out a public health advisory for Nigerians and published guidelines for healthcare workers.

Education drives are going on across the state.  DM


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