What we are witnessing now is strange, totally unexpected and unprepared for. It is worse than war between nations or communities. It is a calamity, a disaster of monstrous proportion. Most people are still in denial and they demonstrated against the government for daring to restrict their movement, tampering with their freedom, a fundamental right enshrined in the constitution of Nigeria.
The rapidity of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unpreparedness of the world made it difficult, if not impossible, for people to quickly accept the reality of the situation and embrace the measures being devised to contain it. Indeed, the story of the novel coronavirus pandemic belongs to a group of celestial events which had been recorded in history. The biblical stories of the Egyptian plagues, crossing of the Red Sea and others are more like a myth to some people, rather than a reality which the Christians accept and preach.
There are people who believe that COVID-19 is a punishment from God, in response to the total disregard for His laws by humans. But whatever your beliefs are, the truth is that COVID-19 is here with us and it will exert its maximum effect, if we are not careful.
The pandemic started late December 2019, in Wuhan, China, and rapidly grounded all economic activities with its reverberations being felt all over the world. China, being a major supplier of virtually everything, sent the whole world into a panic mode.
Initially, the world was only concerned with the economic impact and the alteration of the established order – but not for too long, as the disease spread its wing to all parts of the globe and, pronto, everybody in every corner of the world is in trouble. The virus is now known to have infected over a million people and killed more than 60,000 of them. It has spread to at least 180 countries and regions around the world in less than three months!
Europe is the worst hit. In Italy, people are dying daily in their hundreds. In the United Kingdom, the discussions and hysteria that accompanied BREXIT was quickly set aside to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic. Spain is in trouble, big trouble, just as it is in other European nations.
The story is not different in other continents. Asian nations like India, South Korea, etc, are not spared of the evil touch of the pandemic. In the Middle East, hitherto sworn enemies, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel are now faced with the same race of how to contain the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In America, the usually loquacious and boisterous Donald Trump had been boasting about the invincibility of the United States of America until the reality of his people’s vulnerability dawned on him and others in government. Today, America has overtaken China as the epicentre of the disease. It is a pathetic story throughout the length and breadth of USA. The nation’s healthcare system is overwhelmed. People are dying in huge numbers daily and the situation is getting out of control.
In an unusual bipartisan action since the Trump era began, the two legislative chambers of the Congress agreed to an unprecedented $2 trillion package to combat the pandemic. This is a massive stimulus package, about 100 times the national budget of Nigeria. Yet, for the United States of America, the battle of COVID-19 is not abating yet.
In Africa, over 6,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed with South Africa leading at over 1,500 cases and closely followed by Algeria with over 1000 cases. In Nigeria, over 200 cases have been confirmed with five fatalities.
However, while we are still trembling under the fear of the dreaded COVID-19, it is important for us to examine its impact on the world order, nation states and individual lives. The pandemic has changed what we used to know, observe, appreciate, adore and even worship. The usual camaraderie that defines our society is no longer an acceptable norm. Now, everybody is a suspect – your spouse, children, parents, relations, friends, colleagues at work or in the profession or religious group, etc.
It is no longer okay to shake hands, hug or embrace, kiss or in any way display physical affection for your loved ones. We are to maintain social distance and there is a government “stay at home” order. In fact, these days, it is not uncommon to receive a message like, “If you love me, don’t visit.” The old people, 60 years and above, are particularly vulnerable and we are
advised to stay far away from them.
COVID-19 does not respect any person, nation, ethnicity or race. It has the greatest disregard for power, wealth and influence. The United States of America, the most powerful nation in the world, has succumbed to the reality of COVID-19 threat. The weapons of war cannot save the great nation from the threat of the pandemic, which has also exposed the weakness of its healthcare delivery system.
Europe is trembling now. All our thoughts in Africa about their superpower status has been laid bare as mere fiction. The same Europe that people risked their lives to cross deserts and seas just to get there has now become a “no-go” area. There are no longer queues for visa at the embassies anymore and no one is interested in going there. All airports are closed, international flight operations suspended, and immigration posts partially closed.
For us in Nigeria, this is a rehearsal of what the JUDGEMENT DAY will look like. I am not referring to the apocalyptical end of all things as predicted in the Holy Bible. The judgement day here refers to the time that we will give account of our stewardship, whether here or hereafter. This account will be rendered as a nation, individual, family, group or organisation.
We all know that “God cannot be mocked, whatever a man shows, he shall reap”. Sadly, over the years, we have neglected to follow the wisdom embedded in this divine injunction. Our elites are fond of disregarding the development of the home base and will rather rush to the big cities in Europe and America for everything: shopping, healthcare, education, parties, houses, etc. Since they are the leaders in the government and economy of the nation, they have access to the nation’s wealth and have helped themselves to accumulate more than enough for now and the future. In the process, all the systems and infrastructures that should serve the people have been made to rot away.
With the advent of COVID-19, the recourse to overseas succour is blocked and the people most affected are the same privileged, powerful and wealthy people. They can no longer access their favourite hospitals abroad. The sky is closed against their first class or business class positions in commercial airlines and their private jets. They have no choice but to use the same hospitals that they have neglected and rendered impotent over the years. With their big titles: governors, ministers, managing directors, directors-general, chief of staff, etc., they are now being forced to use the same facility with the commoners.
Had they known that a day like this would come, it is probable that they would have behaved differently and sought the good of the nation rather than their primitive accumulation of wealth and utter disregard for the public good. This COVID-19 rehearsal is good for us, and I will urge our political and business leaders to use their wealth and exposure for the good of the community. Let us build systems and infrastructures that can withstand the stress of COVID-19 and other unplanned events that may come in future.
As a nation, we have neglected everything that we should have concentrated our attention on, and that is why we are struggling to revive the railway system, and spend hours on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, a road that was commissioned by the late General Musa Yaradua in 1978. I wonder why it took us 42 years to expand and rebuild the road.
In Lagos, I am aware that the Daleko Bridge that connected Isolo and Mushin communities was completed and commissioned in 1976. The Isolo to Ikotun axis of the road has been left unattended to for decades, leaving people to suffer on daily basis. I am not sure that the governor is aware that the people living in the communities served by this road are part of Lagos State.
People who live in crowded areas, with about five to six people in a room, are now being asked to stay at home to prevent the spread of a highly contagious disease! The hospitals that are not properly funded are now being called upon to handle emergencies of COVID-19. We could have done much better; and after this COVID-19, a rehearsal of the judgment day, is over, I want to appeal to governments at all levels to be alive to their responsibilities and make things to work for the people.
We have always asked government to treat medicines availability as a national security issue. We pleaded that our drug research and local manufacturing capabilities require a special attention and focus from the government. However, it was business as usual, until COVID-19 came and the fire-brigade action started.
The current stimulus package for the pharmaceutical industry, announced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), is good but should have come much earlier. We are faced with shortages of essential medicines which will take months to come back to normal. About 80 per cent of our national consumption is imported from other countries and these countries are currently minding their own problems. India, for instance, has banned export of essential medicines, which should be reserved for their local population. China is going back to work and will take time to return to the pre-COVID-19 activity level.
When this is over, I will urge the government not to drop the ball in the pursuit of growth and development of the pharmaceutical sector. We have allowed politics and other subterranean considerations to becloud our need for a vibrant pharmaceutical sector. I wish to repeat my earlier recommendation that the president should appoint a special adviser of cabinet rank on pharmaceutical affairs. The office will oversee and supervise all activities relating to regulations, research, manufacturing, procurement, distribution and other issues concerning medicines and allied products.
Let’s take the challenge of COVID-19 seriously and do the right things after the episode is over. It may be more catastrophic if we allow other occurrences to meet us unprepared.
By Pharm. (Dr) Lolu Ojo, BPharm, MBA, PharmD, FPCPharm, FPSN, FNAPharm