COVID-19 IN AFRICA: ON-THE-GROUND PERSPECTIVES
Dr Jude Okoh, Medical Director
9 April 2020
Current lockdown status: With the increasing spread, the Government has closed the country’s international airports and ordered a total lockdown in Lagos and Abuja, with residents advised to stay at home. Exemptions apply to those engaged in emergency, financial and security and healthcare critical sectors.
Impact on the community: Remote work is being undertaken, where possible. Personal hygiene, social distancing and screening protocols have been reinforced by both government and private organisations. Screening is being undertaken in all 36 states with isolation and treatment centres have been set up and equipped. Testing centres have been established; there are nine at the moment and four more are expected by Friday to cover all the geopolitical regions of the country.
The medical system is struggling with a widespread and critical shortage of PPE and ventilators. Isolation centres are not fully equipped and staff shortages have also been identified with retired healthcare workers being recalled back to active service.
Nigeria has just come out of a recession and now COVID-19 is heavily impacting people. Prices of items, including PPEs, have skyrocketed, further worsening the plight of the common man. There have been many job losses especially in the airline and hospitality sectors, transportation, manufacturing, and SMEs. People believe that their situation will deteriorate as the lockdown progresses. Many hope for divine intervention to stop the spread.
What is International SOS doing on the ground? The first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed by an International SOS MedSite team working in Ogun State, South West Nigeria on 28 February. Also involved with the second case which was a direct contact of the first Index case. Most cases are imported. Most cases are in Lagos and Abuja where there is evidence of community transmission.
LIFE IN QUARANTINE AFTER DETECTING NIGERIA'S FIRST COVID-19 CASE
Dr Amarachukwu Karen Allison, Site Doctor
Abuja, 7 April 2020 – He turned up with flu-like symptoms at a medical centre in Ogun state in the southwest of Nigeria. Dr Amara Allison, who was on duty, examined the patient and ordered that he be isolated immediately. She had just diagnosed Nigeria’s first COVID-19 patient. Along with four health workers and 35 other people who had been in contact with the country’s index case, Dr Allison was placed on a 14-day quarantine. She recounts her experience staying indoors for a fortnight.
Being quarantined is quite kaleidoscopic.
On the first day, I didn’t quite understand the gravity of it. I guess I was unconsciously in a lot of denial, thinking ‘no, not me’ which in retrospect wasn’t such a bad thing. This feeling lasted the first 48 hours.
I was cheerful and able to reassure my family. They were the only ones with whom I could share that I had been potentially exposed to the virus but could not share with them more details on how it happened in virtue of medical confidentiality.
By my third day, it was like a flood gate opened and a dam of emotions hit me smack in my face and gut. I woke up on day three, and I just couldn’t get out of bed. That was the day the protective shock wore off. I was now unavoidably afraid. This point was where I realized the importance of a support system. Luckily my family didn’t fall short. They called to reassure me and in some way themselves. It was mostly welcome. I say mostly because I had highs and lows, periods when I absolutely didn’t want to talk or feel like talking to anyone, even though I wanted them to call as it reassured me.
The psychological trauma was my greatest challenge, just being with my thoughts alone for 14 days, good, bad, ugly. I also had to deal with the accompanying boredom and missing real human contact. It hit me really badly because aside from all that was going on, I’m a very physically active person and I couldn’t be that during this period.
However, it wasn’t all fear if I’m being honest. The quarantine period also gave me time to self-develop as much as possible (through online courses) which was also a very welcome form of distraction.
To make the 14 days of quarantine liveable my organization had a psychologist call in to check on us twice daily (morning and night), so that gave me a lot of reassurance. They also had someone call in everyday specially for our physical needs.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) team in Nigeria also provided their support. The WHO doctors were calling me regularly to provide words of encouragement and advice on the principles of quarantine. I was also able to stay abreast of the latest developments on the virus through the WHO online platforms.
By my fifth day in, I learned to dispel my boredom and persistent anxiety with movies and books. I’m a fitness enthusiast and as difficult as it was for me to muster the mental energy to workout, whenever I did eventually workout, it lifted my mood significantly and left me feeling healthier.
We were comfortable in quarantine: steady power supply, spacious rooms, healthy frequent meals surely made it liveable. It’s also important to anticipate boredom, low moods, maybe even depression. Having several means of entertainment would remedy these to an extent. The power of a good support system cannot be over emphasized, but overall maintaining a positive outlook as much as possible is imperative to getting through any quarantine period.