There have been issues with the form that palliatives for the mitigation of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic or COVID-19 should take to make the most impact.
When the novel health challenge berthed on the shores of Nigeria, the corporate world, led by Alhaji Aliko Dangote, came together to form Coalition Against Coronavirus (COCAVID), with banks and other organizations donating millions and billions of Naira to fund interventions aimed at stopping the spread of the virus and alleviating the hardship expected to follow the pandemic.
Governments – federal and states – also announced billions and millions of Naira respectively set aside to be given out to needy Nigerians as palliatives.
The manner of application of these funds have been mired in controversy, especially the disbursement of the government palliatives, which many insist have not been equitable.
Indeed, there was the story of how the part of the funds meant for the South East and South West geo-political zones of the country got burnt in the fire that gutted the office of the Accountant General of the Federation. It was not explained, if the story was true, what the cash was doing in that office at that material time, and the ashes or charred remains of what should have been a huge pile of the cash was not shown and no serious questions have been asked nor anyone brought to book.
However, out of the health crisis and the palliatives fiasco some examples stand out as models of how Nigerians, especially the needy, can be reached most effectively with life saving palliatives and care in the short and long run at moments such as this.
These models are the community based approach, the knowledge-based strategy, the faith based model and the hospitals strategy.
Some individuals, in different cities in Nigeria and the diaspora taxed themselves and mobilized funds to send in cash to be distributed directly or to be used to purchase food items, for their less privileged kith and kin in their home communities.
These interventions were, literally, seamless and achieved the purpose of putting smiles on the faces of the people targeted.
Besides distributing cash and food to the people in the rural communities, the Mbaise Policy Roundtable (MPR), a group co-ordinated from New York, USA by Professor Eddie Oparaoji went a step further to evolve the MPR Coronavirus Prevention Awareness Program (MCPAP) described by Oparaoji as “.. a carefully designed community based public health enhancing program, … to enhance the COVID 19 functional and professional knowledge capacity of about 250 participating healthcare informants, … to empower our citizens with requisite knowledge to make the right COVID 19 prevention behavioral choices, without coercion, that keeps us all safe, and third is to provide some stimulus to our local economy through the stipends paid these healthcare informants and patronizing of local vendors”.
The program involved the use of community based trained health resources, including Disease Surveillance and Notification Officers (DSNOs) and community informants whose experience and expertise were being leveraged at the community level to pass on the messages of how to avoid contracting COVID-19.
This strategy is critical, as in many communities in Nigeria and Africa, many people still do not believe that there is anything called coronavirus while many more do not understand how it is transmitted and how to stay safe and avoid contracting it. Knowledge is key.
At another level, Senator Stella Adaeze Oduah, representing Anambra North Senatorial District of Anambra state in Nigeria’s National Assembly proved that the faith based strategy can be very effective and successful in getting desperately needed palliatives to less privileged people.
She, single-handedly provided a staggering 30,000 bags of rice, 60,000 tubers of yam and 25,000 cartons of noodles for the indigent and widows in her constituency and channeled these through the major Churches in area – Catholic, Anglican and Pentecostal churches.
Her team got the leaders of the Churches to send in names of beneficiaries, insisting that 15 names on each list must be widows.
The different groups were allotted days, time and venue for collection of the items and the process, which involved more than 600 churches, has gone without hitches, to everyone’s satisfaction.
This strategy, adopted by Senator (Princess) Oduah, a former Minister of Aviation, to reach the indigent members of her constituency and widows, is beside the N10 million she has donated to another initiative by the Anambra state chapter of her party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to reach the less privileged and to set up a COVID-19 test center in the state.
Another approach, adopted by Mr. Peter Obi, the PDP Vice Presidential candidate in the last general election is the hospitals strategy.
It is very important to teach the people all they must know about COVID-19, it is also very important to give the people food to eat,especially in view of the effects of the lockdown and constriction of the economy, but it is also crucial to ensure that should anyone become sick and get to hospital, there would be basic drugs and life-saving equipment for them and Personal Protective Equipment, PPE, for the safety of the frontline workers – Doctors, Nurses and other medical personnel.
This is especially so as many hospitals in the country, especially at the state and local levels are scarcely receiving any attention at all and most are also, as a result, badly run. Mission hospitals, which are more seriously managed, also have some challenges with funding, especially for drugs and equipment.
Mr. Obi’s many interventions so far in, especially mission hospitals, therefore, is a masterstroke, as no one would have, however much money was contributed or budgeted at the federal or state levels, remembered them for assistance with drugs or equipment or PPEs. And they are, or may become, very critical to the battle against the coronavirus (the experience of Wuhan in China and New York and New Jersey in the United States of America and Italy, Spain and some other countries whose otherwise efficient health systems were overwhelmed at the peak of their crises is instructive). In the case of the US, Navy ospital ships were even deployed!! And news is already filtering out that the major hospitals in Nigeria and becoming stretched. These mission hospitals and facilities at the states and local levels may be the saving grace!!
With donations of drugs and equipment worth millions of Naira by Mr. Peter Obi, these hospitals are now, to an extent, better prepared for any eventuality, and these donations are beside the N30million the former Governor of Anambra state has also given to the Anambra state PDP for the less privileged and for the test center in the state.
The intervention of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, -led Oil and Gas Industry Coalition, valued at N21 billion is also monumental.
The group is not putting down cash but supplying direly needed equipment and facilities to upgrade existing government hospitals, putting in place and equipping Testing, Tracing and Treatment Centres like the recently inaugurated Thisday Dome COVID-19 Testing, Tracing and Treatment Centre and very importantly, building from scratch, state of the art Emergency and Infectious Diseases hospitals, one in each of the six geo-political zones of the country.
Already, this Coalition, co-ordinated by the Group Managing Director, GMD, of NNPC, Malam Mele Kyari, has done so much towards redeeming its pledge, and has, in fact, laid the foundation for the construction of one of the six zonal hospitals in Bayelsa state. Kyari has said that the facilities to be put in place in the geo-political zones are meant to outlive the COVID-19 period and be of great use to Nigerians after the pandemic.
Malam Kyari has also assured that apart from the zonal hospitals and other interventions, all the states of the country will feel the full impact of the intervention of the oil and gas industry coalition, especially in the area of provision of medical consumables and infrastructure.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, who is the head of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Mr. Boss Mustapha had reportedly confessed that he did not know before his present assignment that the country’s health sector was badly run down.
It is expected that the intervention of the oil and gas industry group lead by the NNPC in the areas of supply of direly needed equipment and infrastructure to existing hospitals and construction of the new geo-political state of the art hospitals would go some way to give the country’s health sector the seriously needed face lift.
These approaches need to be emulated by governments and other stakeholders desiring to positively impact all the people, especially the indigent population with knowledge about COVID-19, with life-saving palliatives and with well prepared rural, state and national hospitals.
This way, COVID-19 and the entire exercise linked to it will cease to be seen as a scam, a jamboree, or a money making venture for governments, their officials, agents and other individuals and groups.