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First death in Abuja as confirmed cases hit 40

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NIGERIA on Monday recorded its first Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)-induced death.

The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) identified the victim as a 67-year male who returned from a medical trip to the United Kingdom UK).

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The victim – a one-time Pipeline Products Marketing Company (PPMC) Managing Director Suleiman Achimugu – had underlying medical conditions, including multiple myeloma and diabetes. He was said to be undergoing chemotherapy.

As of Monday, Nigeria had 40 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with Lagos accounting for 28; Federal Capital Territory (6);  Ogun State (two); Edo and Ekiti states (one each).

Dropping the hint at the daily news briefing, Health Minister Osagie Ehanire explained that – of the 36 cases, 26 had travel history to affected countries in the last two weeks, six are contacts of confirmed cases and four have no recent travel history or known contact.

The minister said: “As of the 23rd of March, 2020, 40 cases have been confirmed, two cases have been discharged and one death recorded from COVID-19 in Nigeria. Of the 33 active cases, 32 are clinically stable with mild symptoms. One patient is oxygen-dependent.

“The NCDC is working closely with the state governments of all affected states to carry out contact tracing. Through intensified contact tracing, we have been able to promptly detect cases. I strongly urge all health facilities to be on high alert and for state, local government, law enforcement authorities and community leaders to give full cooperation to investigators.

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“Following the declaration of a pandemic by WHO (World Health Organisation) and increasing spread of COVID-19, the Federal Government through the Presidential Task Force on the Control of COVID-19, has employed diverse strategies to interrupt and halt the spread of disease.

“To this end, a ban has been placed on all international flights effective from today, the 23rd of March, 2020, with the exception of emergency and essential flights. These were not easy decisions to make but have become necessary in view of the changing developments in the country as we witness more confirmed cases of COVID-19.

“More measures may be instituted by the federal and state governments in the coming days as the situation demands”.

Concerning protecting the most vulnerable in the society, especially those at the grassroots, Dr. Ehanire said because COVID-19 is something that comes from outside the country, he hopes it does not get to the grassroots, and that is why the government is doing a lot of contact tracing.

He said: “We are going after those who have come from outside the country, and finding out if they came in with this disease or not. We put them in self-isolation; those who are from high-burden countries, are placed on supervised isolation.

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“We hope that it does not filter into the grassroots, but if it does, we have the primary health care system and the disease notification that goes along with it. So, we are prepared for that eventuality.

“Contact tracing is to identify all persons that require medical attention or require isolation. The multilateral emergency operations centres led by NCDC continues to coordinate national response activities. NCDC has also launched a campaign that is titled take responsibility.  This is a call to all Nigerians and residents of Nigeria, to join forces and be proactive in taking individual and collective actions in preventing and controlling the spread of COVID-19.

“I urge all citizens, businesses and all professional bodies and committed Nigerians to take ownership of this campaign by developing and communicating prevention messages.

“As for forced isolation, we have not come to that yet, but we have had reasons to go after persons who came from abroad and did not register their presence or go into isolation. We published their names until they volunteered themselves and were put in isolation. After the 14-day period, they were now free to go.

“Self-isolation is the social responsibility of every citizen. Everything can’t be done by government, so, citizen engagement is important. Anyone who have traveled and who may have come with an infection and may not know that he or she has that infection, has that responsibility as a responsible citizen to protect himself, his children, and family by being self-isolated. We depend on that sense of responsibility of every person.

“If you are not able to self-isolate, you can take a hotel for the 14 days. We do not hope that at some point we will enforce isolation, but we want to depend on the self-responsibility of all citizens.”

On social distancing advice, the minister said: “One person can infect 2.5 million people in five days, depending on the exposure. So, the less exposure you have, the less the number of people who can be infected. This is why we are advising against crowding and congregating in different places.

“Today, we heard from one of the United Nations (UN) agencies that the donation from Jack Ma has already arrived at Addis Ababa, which is the headquarter of the African Union (AU). From there it is going to be distributed to all the African countries. Today, I was informed that our own will come in the next few days.

“There are items on the shopping list, and as I speak to you now, we are expecting some deliveries. Some multilateral partners and the various UN agencies have promised to support us both with procurement, logistics and technical support and training.

“Other countries have also offered to support us, and when I leave here I am going to meet with the Ambassador of another country who is going to offer us some support.

“Currently, five laboratories in Nigeria can do the test for COVID-19, and within a few days, we will have six laboratories that can do the test. So, we are increasing and building our capacity little by little. We have an offer for a new PCR machine, which we are going to place somewhere else in a strategic location.

“All these are possible because we have an excellent courier system that can take samples from one place to the other to process. The important thing is not to have testing centres everywhere, but that you are able to do your test, and you are able to send the samples from one place to the other place and get your result in time.

“We are expecting that if the cases rise, we need to be able to increase testing opportunities. Therefore, we are still going to have more PCR machines. We also need to have the reagents that make them work for testing this disease.”

Ehanire spoke of the possibility to recall and reabsorb doctors and nurses from retirement into service in some states if the need or the situation arises.

Describing them as a ‘reserve pool’, the minister said: “There are issues with Medicines that are coming up. Every day, I receive calls of people saying they have medicines that can cure coronavirus; some of these calls come from countries where the virus is not even known to have appeared. So where they got the cure I do not know? We depend on WHO, who are working day and night and analysing all the treatment options.

“We are looking at what other countries are doing and what choices they are making, and comparing it with our situation. Our situation and their situation are not the same, therefore, we are trying to make sure that we take the best choices that are available for our own country.

“Any medicine that is new that comes out, we will look at the results and the reports on it. I recently heard that one of our treatment centres is preparing to treat, if the situation arises, with chloroquine in a clinical trial not routine.

“The most important thing in the treatment of coronavirus patients, are supportive treatment like pain killers, vitamins, drips, etc., to help the patient build-up their immune system. At the end of the day it is his or her personal body immune system that we will deal with the virus.”

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