Frontline workers as doctors, medical specialists, journalists, among others feeling the heat and pressure as the number of COVID-19 victims continue to rise in Nigeria. As Federal Government of Nigeria rolled out guidelines to mitigate against the effects of the pandemic on the citizens, there still room for improvement as regards what ought to be done to contain the further spread of the viral disease among Nigerians at large. In this interview with Vanguard, Dr Zainab Suleiman, a medical practitioner with Phemzy Hospital and Maternity Limited, Abuja highlighted crucial issues concerning the lockdown, COVID-19 containment, among other things needed to be done to see to the end of the pandemic in the country and the world at large.
Tell us what motivated your recent letter to Mr President.
Thank you. Recently, there was a scenario which played out in the far Europe where some countries whose healthcare system are even better than ours relaxed their lockdown but recorded a surging number of more infected cases and I began to wonder how a country like ours would manage such occurrence if (God forbid) we are to pay for the consequences. Yes, people are hungry back at home but I think it is logical to be alive than being torn apart by the hydra-headed monster ravaging our clime. Secondly, the palliative materials are yet to get to the core areas which they are meant for. All we have everyday is lamentation and bitter wailing of the populace. We must be true to ourselves, the stimulus packages announced by the Federal Government to cushion the effects of the lockdown imposed on some states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to contain the further spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have not been sincerely deployed.
What is your assessment on the performance of health workers in containing the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria?
Well, I must say it has been a fierce battle and a trying time for our health workers across the country. To be fair enough, with the gravity of the global situation of the COVID -19 pandemic, the Nigerian healthcare providers are fast in mobilizing and dispensing everything on their sleeves for the outbreak response. As a record, the polio programme was among their first calls for support for its human resources, technical expertise, disease surveillance and community service, as well as its logistical capacity.
As a professional in the field of medicine, what are some challenges that you're facing in a time like now?
In a trying time as this when the best of our medical expertise is what is needed and when all hands must be on deck, but unfortunately, the hands on deck are far shorter than what we actually need. The hands on deck are not enough. What I actually mean is that the brain drain sweeping across our establishments are also militating against us in the health sector. A bane, (or maybe being referred to as a menace will do more justice to it) which is termed "Brain drain" has dealt a huge blow on the efforts being made in the health ministry. The healthcare provider shortage is hitting every healthcare organization in the country — especially when it comes to we doctors and nurses and this means fewer staff members must divide a significant workload, pushing some employees to the brink of exhaustion and decreasing job satisfaction considerably. A situation which ultimately causes a burnout. Moreover, the mental stress experienced cannot but be mentioned too. Decision making under conditions of uncertainty can create significant psychological pressure. Conditions making conditions like: Providing care for severely unwell patients, allocation of resources, aligning patient needs with family, and balancing physical and health needs of patients.
Any advice to Vanguard readers on how to stay positive at this dire time?
Certainly, a lot of people are feeling the inherent stress of this time and it is quite understandable. There's the physical part to being positive, as well as the mental part. During this trying time, we must adhere strictly to the stipulated health guidelines and regulations as described by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) which include;
A. Washing of hands regularly with soap under running water.
B. Covering of mouth and nose properly with handkerchief or tissue paper when sneezing and/or coughing. One may also cough into one's elbow if a handkerchief is not available.
C. Avoidance of close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.
D. Self-medication should be discouraged. A report should be made to the nearest health facility when one experiences any of the above-mentioned symptoms.
Moreover, we must learn to maintain the social support networks we have, even if that means, for the time being, focusing on timely Social media shout outs, friendly text messages, and calls, virtual meet-ups, Social distancing is the chosen public health term, and we can honour it with physical distancing and social solidarity. With that in mind, we will be adding positive activities to our daily schedules to help keep us busy. Mentally, there’s a side of fitness, too. That’s true of people who are not accustomed to being cooped up at home for the extended period. Take up some books or journals to read and set a time to finish an allotted chapter of the book. You can as well play some brain - tasking riddle games with your family members.
What has been one good thing you noticed during this outbreak?
Our healthcare resource management has been so cooperative. The health ministry has been up and doing. Permit me to say this, the health minister, Dr Osagie Emmanuel Ehanire has been firing the cylinders at both ends and his communication with the public has been fantastic. Without mincing words, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control are doing their best too to sensitize the public on the needs to adhere to the health guidelines and regulations.
Any other bright moments you've noticed?
The Nigerian populace have also been cooperating well with the directives of the federal government and I hereby implore them to do more so as to ultimately curtail the ravaging scourge.