Coronavirus: Beyond the Name Change


In many cultures and communities around the world, names given to people often have unique stories behind them. Whether it is the day or time a child is born or, more commonly, the circumstances surrounding the birth, several factors influence the names parents choose for their children.  In western Nigeria, for example, it is not uncommon for the parents, grandparents and other members of a child’s immediate and extended families contribute at least one name to be given to the child. Consequently, the child ends up with several names – each telling its own special story.

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Illustration of coronavirus as a respiratory system attack

The point here is that names often have significant connotations. In the case of the coronavirus, until recently, the deadly and rampaging disease had been known as the 2019-nCoV. That was the temporary name given to it, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) strategised on giving it an official name and battling it as should be the case. However, during his daily briefing recently, the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the official name as COVID-19.

Explaining the reasons behind the decision and the new name, he said: “We had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease. Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatising. It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks.”

The coronavirus, now COVID-19, has killed more than 1,000 people with the majority of infections in mainland China. It broke out in the city of Wuhan in the Hubei province, the city was subsequently put on lockdown.

Should we panic?

Now, beyond the changed name, the spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development as the WHO had initially declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern. It added cheeringly however that there is a “window of opportunity” to halt the spread of the disease.

The key issues here are how transmissible is this new killer disease among people and what proportion of infected people become severely ill and end up in hospital. It should be noted though that, in most cases, viruses that spread easily tend to have a milder impact.

According to the WHO, healthcare workers could be at risk if they unexpectedly come across someone with respiratory symptoms who had travelled to an affected region. Generally, the coronavirus appears to be hitting older people hardest, with few cases in children.


What are the symptoms?

The COVID-19 virus causes pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. If people are admitted to hospital, they may get support for their lungs and other organs as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health.

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Can it be transmitted?

China’s national health commission has confirmed human-to-human transmission, adding that there have been such transmissions elsewhere. According to the commission, as of 12 February, 2020, there were 45,182 confirmed cases and 1,115 deaths. There are cases in 28 other countries outside China, with deaths recorded in one case in Hong Kong, and one case in Philippines. The number of people to have contracted the virus overall could be far higher, as people with mild symptoms may not have been detected.

A report from the UK stated: “The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK has doubled from four to eight after four more people in Brighton were diagnosed with the infection over the weekend. One of the other four confirmed cases is being treated at the HCID unit at the Royal Free hospital in north London, and the two Chinese nationals who tested positive for Coronavirus in New York are being treated at the HCID centre in Newcastle.”

Should Nigeria be worried?

There are definitely reasons to be concerned, because presently, the mortality rate of coronavirus is around 2 per cent However, this is likely to be an underestimate since many more people are likely to have been infected by the virus but not suffered severe enough symptoms to attend hospital, and so have not been counted. For comparison, seasonal flu typically has a mortality rate below 1 per cent and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths each year globally. SARS had a death rate of more than 10 per cent.

As reported in the dailies, the members of the Senate Committee on Health recently raised an alarm over alleged poor control and surveillance of the deadly disease at the country’s two busiest entry ports – Murtala Muhammad International Airport (MMIA) and Apapa Port, both in Lagos. The lawmakers, following an inspection of the two facilities, were not pleased with the measures put in place to prevent coronavirus from entering Nigeria.

Most shocking to the lawmakers was that the foreign airlines were not complying with the regulators’ provisions on screening and self-declaration by passengers before arrival in Nigeria.

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Dr Ibrahim Oloriegbe and Chairman, Senate Committee on Primary Healthcare and Communicable Diseases, Chukwuka Utazi, along with the team from the Nigeria Health Watch who went on an oversight visit to MMIA and the seaport, expressed displeasure at compliance rate and the screening exercise and how it was being handled with laxity.

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Other issues discovered and condemned by the senate committee include: inadequate human resources, funding to purchase medical reagents and protective materials, unhygienic toilets, inferior face masks for the staff and hand sanitisers, noncompliance of airlines on security policies by the Federal Ministry of Health, poor state of the airport facilities, unavailability of vehicles for mobility of affected person to be examined and treated, among others.

Oloriegbe said from what had been observed from the activities of the port health services, the country was not prepared to contain disease outbreak.

He questioned why the port health services were not strict with ensuring airlines complied with the health policy of making passengers fill the mandatory “passengers self-reporting form” while onboard for screening, lamenting that this act could jeopardise the whole nation. He went ahead to interview some foreign nationals that flew into Nigeria if they underwent all the screening measures and they confirmed that they were not checked on board, nor did they fill the health forms.

Oloriegbe, who gave an assessment of their findings, said: “From what we have seen both at the airport and seaport, we have a lot of gaps that need to be filled, for us to be assured and say we are prepared for any eventuality. The gaps include, starting from the human resources. At the airport and seaport we don’t have enough medical officers, or other health workers that need to be on ground.”

However, the country’s Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, has assured Nigerians of safety, revealing that efforts were being made to ensure sustainability of their good health.

Speaking at a stakeholders’ forum in Abuja, Ehanire said Africa’s most populous nation had the capacity to detect, assess and respond in case the virus finds its way into the country.

“While the risk of importation exists, we can assure Nigerians of the nation’s capacity to detect, assess and respond to this and any other public health threats at the point of entry,” he said.

He also said the federal government had voted funds to increase services of the ministry’s Port Health Services Unit. He disclosed that government was in touch with 16 Nigerians in Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic in China’s Hubei province.

According to Ehanire, “There have been no confirmed cases in Africa but the potential has been clearly demonstrated. So far Kenya, Ethiopia and Ivory Coast have reported negative outcomes for suspected cases. Botswana is probing one such case.”

On his part, the Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the government only had travel advisories to issue but cannot ban travels. “Right now, we are working together at an inter-ministerial level to be able to contain the epidemic.

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“What we will do is to give travel advisories that if it is not essential to travel to southeast China, do not make such trips. But you know it is very difficult to ban people from travelling,” he added.

While speaking in an interview with pressmen, Pharm. Jonah Okotie, secretary, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria (ACPN), said increased health education and putting in place measures to guarantee preventive health practices are some of the measures to checkmate coronavirus from entering the country.

“Nigeria is gradually becoming a ‘sleeping giant’; it is high time we rose to not just our health needs, but that of the world. I don’t see the reason why we can’t position our petrochemical and cotton industries to begin to produce not only face masks but other needed pharmaceuticals to save lives and prevent diseases,” he said.

Also, according to Pharm. Patrick Ugwumba, managing director, Farmkash Limited, guarding against the spread of coronavirus, in case of an outbreak, requires strict adherence to respiratory hygiene, cough etiquette and hand hygiene.

“It’s not yet very certain if one can get infected with the virus by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then using that same hand to touch the mouth or nostrils. It’s therefore advisable to keep your hand away from your mouth, nose and eyes, for now”, he said.

Safety measures

Recently, the Chinese province which is the centre of the coronavirus outbreak recorded a record high in deaths, bringing the total number to more than 1,300 people globally, and confirmed cases of infection in their thousands, as experts warned the epidemic could “create havoc” in less prepared countries, the world faces a formidable public health crisis in a recent outbreak of a virus infection called COVID-19

Although it originated in China, where most of the casualties have been reported, the disease has spread across the globe with reported cases in places as far flung as the United States, South Korea, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, France and Germany.

As a member of the global community, Nigeria also has a responsibility to ensure that her citizens are not caught unawares. With the country already burdened by poverty and many deadly diseases, including the Lassa fever, which is currently spreading across the states like a wildfire, Nigeria cannot afford to start contending with an additional burden of the coronavirus, a disease about which very little is known for now.

It is quite encouraging that the Nigerian authorities have started taking steps to control a possible importation of the disease into the country. Although no case of actual infection has been recorded in the country, there has to be heightened surveillance and preparation to handle a possible outbreak.

By Adebayo Oladejo & Omolola Famodun



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