Nigeria recently received President Cyril Ramaphosa, who led a delegation of government and business representatives, amid the possible spread of the new COVID Omicron variant and a rash of global Travel restrictions. In Nigeria there were concerns behaved about the visit that helps spread the new variant. Adejuwon Soyinka, The Conversation Africa’s regional editor for West Africa, asked Dr. Doyin Odubanjo, a leading public health expert, gave his opinion on travel bans and Nigeria’s handling of COVID so far.
How do you feel about travel bans?
I understand the intent. But I think they have very limited effectiveness at this point. We are now in the early days of the pandemic and the disease has established itself in every country with community transmission. Travel bans are of little importance in this context.
By the time a variant is discovered and announced, it has likely already spread to many unidentifiable countries. Closing the borders will likely only cause greater socioeconomic damage rather than contain the spread of the disease.
The current flood of travel bans is quite premature and irrational, as we know the variant is in different countries already and there is still no clear connection between them.
The announcement from South Africa was that the detection and in no way a proof of origin. Much is not yet known. It is still unclear where this variant comes from. Or how an infection with it differs from previous variants or whether vaccines are effective against it.
There is also no proof that the Omicron variant caused significant damage or death somewhere. Almost all recognized cases So far it works with people who were otherwise fine. If anything, Europe is the region with one rather surprising increase in cases (despite the relatively higher vaccination rate compared to Africa).
Nigeria has set conditions for the entry of travelers. Are these enough?
the Nigerian guidelines for arriving travelers focus on the detection of COVID with PCR tests (especially within 72 hours before departure and on the second day of arrival) and the use of non-pharmaceutical measures. Unvaccinated passengers must also be isolated for seven days and an additional PCR test performed at the end of the isolation period.
Travelers are expected to self-isolate until they get a negative test result. It is good when it is implemented efficiently.
Is the Nigerian government doing enough to protect its citizens from the pandemic?
There seems to be tiredness everywhere and many things no longer work as they used to.
Take tests in government institutions. This has decreased significantly and much of what is happening now depends on people paying for tests in private labs. The government offered free trials across the country, but much of it has been discontinued. As a result, many patients will not be able to afford the tests now.
People are also tired of following the non-pharmaceutical measures like wearing face masks, hand washing, and distancing themselves. Instead, they are now more concerned with making a living, even more with that rapidly rising inflation.
Finally, I think the government’s responsiveness has deteriorated because over time it has lost credibility in dealing with COVID. For example in the way she used resources, including human resources. In the middle of the pandemic there was Strikes by health workers for non-payment of allowances, including allowances, intended for the COVID response.
What did Nigeria do right? And what did it wrong?
Nigeria had a fairly effective management system in place at the start of the outbreak. There has been a rapid development in testing capacity for the detection of the disease across the country. There was also private sector engagement to support the national and sub-national response, among other things.
But also a lot was wrong. I will highlight the failure to effectively involve health workers and communities. Unfortunately, these are so critical that the country faced a difficult task when we were unable to properly involve them. The health workers are the foot soldiers needed to fight the disease, while disease control ultimately rests on the control of human behavior (in the communities).
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Better late than never. It is time to get citizens involved in the right way and to use the right tools.
Empower scholars and community leaders to lead this effort in the right direction. They can do a better job of spreading information because people trust them more than politicians.
Nigeria needs to get to where people willingly and happily apply the non-pharmaceutical measures through effective communication. Direction and enforcement come after clear information and answering the questions people might have.
And the government needs to be more effective at border control. I am not referring to travel bans here. They must effectively test, quarantine and treat if necessary, and trace contacts.
They are also designed to give the vaccinated traveler an advantage. For example, you could impose fewer testing requirements on vaccinated people.
Most importantly, the goal must be to limit the spread of disease – not to completely discourage travel.