This is what is needed to curb rising non-COVID-19 deaths
Given the continuing rise in the number of confirmed cases of infections of the COVID-19 viral disease in Nigeria, especially in the wake of the phased easing of restrictions to allow for a gradual opening up of the economy, it is understandable that a hint of desperation came into the tone of members of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on the pandemic, in their meeting with medical directors of hospitals in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, last week.
Both the Chairman of the PTF, Mr. Boss Mustapha, and the Minister of Health, Dr. Mike Ehinare, raised the alarm that there were increasing number of deaths from both COVID-19 infections and other diseases in hospital facilities across the country.
For those suffering from the COVID-19 infection, the health authorities noted that many were dying either because of delays in receiving the results of their tests, a process that reportedly takes between three and six days in many hospitals, while others were simply not attended to because healthcare workers complain of lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Sounding a note of warning, Dr Ehinare said, “Efforts to control COVID-19 must not be at the expense of allowing other diseases that are equally life-threatening to begin to thrive and increase mortalities. It would be a serious setback if medical services, especially emergency medical services, begin to deteriorate in the wake of fighting COVID-19. There are places today where we suspect that needless mortalities from other diseases have overtaken the threats of COVID-19”.
Threatening that government would hold medical directors responsible for avoidable deaths, the minister warned that “No emergency should be denied attention, even if it means admitting on a stretcher or on examination couch to give life-saving oxygen. I appeal to all medical directors who we have specially invited here today for this message that we shall hold each personally responsible for the outcomes emanating from your hospitals”.
The severity of the health crisis with which the country’s medical system is plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic dictates necessarily that this is no time for blame game either on the part of the health workers or the government. All hands must rather be on deck to find lasting solutions to challenges as they arise, in a bid to contain the coronavirus scourge.
Surely, health workers cannot be expected to attend to suspected COVID-19 cases without adequate PPEs. The consequences of increased infections in cases and deaths from the pandemic among health workers will aggravate the already serious situation even more. Furthermore, the caution by health workers in attending to patients is understandable since many who report for treatments in health facilities tend to be asymptomatic.
On their part, the health workers, particularly medical directors of hospitals, should ensure that their workers do not hide behind the excuse of not having the necessary PPEs to unjustifiably deny care to ailing patients. This is particularly so as the health authorities have promised to make necessary equipment available to staff on the frontlines of the battle against the disease.
Equally noteworthy is Dr Ehinare’s directive that side laboratories for GeneXpert COVID-19 machines, which deliver results within one hour, should be deployed and activated at the emergency centres of hospitals in different parts of the country. Our capacity to increase testing will ultimately be a key factor in containing and defeating the pandemic in Nigeria.
However, the greatest lesson to be learnt from all this is by the governments at all levels, which, post-COVID-19, have a responsibility to invest in building well equipped hospitals throughout the country and also ensuring that there are sufficient well trained and motivated health workers capable of responding effectively to routine health needs as well as unanticipated pandemics.
In the meantime, government should intensify the quest to ensure local production of PPEs as much as possible to meet supply gaps while also intensifying ad-hoc training for more medical personnel on infection prevention and control protocols to meet the current challenge, especially as confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections have not yet reached their peak.