COVID-19: Not Forgetting The Basics

By Moyosore Okeyode

With the number of infected persons soaring higher and the death casualty also increasing albeit slowly; there is a dire need for government and the private sector and every other responder to rethink strategies and also re-focus on the things that really matters.

At this drive, it is evidently clear that our worst fear has crept in on us. Community transmission is now the new sheriff as persons with no overseas travel history are now testing positive to corona virus.

Demobilizing community transmission of the virus through timely testing, isolation and contact tracing is the mechanism required to forestall the doom predicted by many experts.

Self-Isolation and quarantining by infected persons require that these people keep to themselves for a period of time, this seem doable in theory but not in practical, majority of Nigeria’s urban dwellers reside in densely congested/populated communities.

With a housing deficit of over 17 million housing units, community spread of the virus seem as a punishment for the nations decades of neglect to provide decent affordable housing for its citizens and if community transmission must be halted considering our current reality government must not only provide food as palliative but must also provide emergency water supply and sanitation services in these communities that are already exposed to the virus.

Basic hygiene is a known preventive antidote in immobilizing infectious diseases, however 60 million (32%) people lack access to clean water in Nigeria, 150 million (79%) people lack basic handwashing facilities with soap and water according to WaterAid Nigeria.

In a country where people lack access to portable water or buy at a cost not convenient, basic hygiene practices such as regular handwashing with soap is alien to the average Nigerian and this has remained with us for so long a time that the people coined a cliché for “Germs no de kill Africa” or Germs no de kill black man”. With this unusual mindset it is clear why many discredit the presence and potency of the virus within their midst as they believe to have developed immunity to germs over the years and this is where the issue of mass sensitization campaign is needed.

The lack of access to water as a fundamental human right and the pitiful acceptance of this misnomer as normal by the people increases the risk/vulnerability of many urban slum dwellers to infectious diseases such as the deadly COVID-19.

A cursory look at our national response strategy of testing, isolation, tracing, public enlightenment, palliatives and lockdown; one can adduce that public enlightenment campaign as it ties to the hygiene and sanitation is grossly inadequate as many still live in denial of the virus or the sentiment that the virus targets only the elites. The consequence therefore is that a lot more people will contract the virus and spread across their communities as their lifestyle and social culture hasn’t changed.

Government, health workers and other development partners must take up the responsibility to enlighten the public in an effective, strategic and sustained manner lest we undermine current successes recorded in minimizing the spread of the virus.

In the past weeks; we have observed how uncoordinated the sharing of palliatives (food items) has been in many parts of the country; we have witnessed large crowd of people, rubbing bodies and pushing against each other as they struggle to receive either the conditional cash transfer or the food stimulus package.

In the packages distributed, soaps are conspicuously missing and one begins to wonder if we are not forgetting the basics?

one opportunity that the sharing of palliatives presents is that, sensitization can also be done there before distribution of items begins, that way we reap dual benefit from the process.

So far, government has not deemed it necessary to supply water to neighborhood, communities with no access to water. The World Health Organization and the Nigerian Ministry of Health has continued to emphasize that basic hygiene behavior practices especially frequent and thorough handwashing with soap are essential for curtailing the spread of the pandemic, hence the call on government at all levels to prioritize water supply at this time specially to underserved communities and neighborhoods without access to water. Without water handwashing is not possible.

Government and development partners must recognize soap as a key essential as food, if we must ensure that citizens practice adequate hygiene bearing in mind that the cost of hand sanitizers are not affordable to the common man.

Moyosore Okeyode is the Project Assistant at HipCity Innovation Centre-Abuja

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