Covid-19 and crisis of the health sector

President Buhari on Monday said he was approving a phased and gradual easing of lockdown in FCT, Lagos and Ogun states effective May 4 in line with the recommendations of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the various government committees that have reviewed socio-economic matters and the Nigeria Governors Forum.

The president however did not forget to add that the move will be followed by strict enforcement of testing and contact tracing measures.

The president was no doubt trying to find a balance between locked-up, starving Nigerians who made a living through daily struggle on the streets, the increasing security risk they pose to their more affluent compatriots, and, the concern for the economy especially now the oil sells for as low as $12 a barrel.

The president’s other worry probably has to do with our total absence of preparedness for emergencies. The government palliative measures were mired in controversies with customs seized rice sent to some states found to be unfit for human consumption.

It was only on Sunday, just a day before the president’s latest move that Chikwe Ihekweazu, the Director of Nigeria Centre for Disease Control admitted the country is in desperate need of testing materials.

Less than 1,500 daily tests as against a target 4000 were achieved throughout the lockdown. This is not likely going to change very soon. It is of little relief that of every 10 Nigerians tested so far, one was positive.

With New York with a population of 20million and a budget of $175b overwhelmed by testing crisis, and Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump’s White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator at the White House admitting they were only able to test 40,000 of estimated 200,000 that needed to be tested, and Spain with the best medical facilities in Europe recording unprecedented number of deaths largely due to lack of testing kits, it is not that anyone could have adequately prepared for the outbreak of COVID-19.

But our own problem is that our leaders who are only interested in acquisition of power have paid lip service to our health sector in the last 20 years.

Abuja was dysfunctional. What was needed was devolution of power. Local dispensaries spread across the old Western Nigeria performed creditably and served the needs of the people before the federal government with too much money decided to replace them with federal medical centres, a source of corruption for federal officials.

UCH Ibadan used to be one of the best teaching hospitals in the Commonwealth of Nations. The military regime under Obasanjo took control of all the teaching hospitals and local council health centres.

As an elected president, the contracts for refurbishing the teaching hospitals the misguided soldiers turned to consulting clinics, was awarded to PDP party stalwarts who supplied what they wanted to supply and not what were needed by the teaching hospitals.

President Jonathan had an opportunity to implement the report of Confab he set up, but he was more interested in second term. President Buhari promised restructuring and devolution while seeking power but in office he forgot what devolution of power meant.

The president’s wife and his daughter at different times publicly complained the State House clinic which had no x-ray machine in spite of billions allocated to it every year was not more than a consulting clinic.

The president and his officials who had alternative paid little attention. President Buhari allowed Abba Kyari, the man he described as a loyal gatekeeper, to take over control of ministry of health.

Following his political differences with Professor Adewole, the former health minister, he was alleged to have authorized ministry of agriculture to handle all procurements for ministry of health.

The situation according to insiders, has not changed even with the current minister who not too long ago was too scared to mention Abba Kyari’s by name while giving an update on coronavirus pandemic.

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Unfortunately, with the outbreak of COVID-19 which forced developed nations to temporarily put an end to medical tourism, President Buhari’s loyal gatekeeper who supervised the health sector until his death two weeks ago died in small private clinic in Ikoyi, Lagos.

The problem with our health sector is therefore not just money. It is absence of governance because our elected leaders since the beginning of the fourth republic were in the habit of delegating real governance to loyal gatekeepers.

As indicated above, under Obasanjo, PDP stalwarts awarded medical procurement to loyal party members who had no knowledge of the medical sector. The result was the claim by medical experts that all the refurbishment of the teaching hospitals that Obasanjo boasted of carrying out was a fraud.

Under Jonathan, the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Authority (PPPRA) set up under Obasanjo as minister of petroleum became a vehicle for stealing N1.7 trillion according to House of Reps probe of fuel subsidy regime.

As further evidence of absence of governance, fire brigade approach is often adopted in circumstances where sense of orderliness and through planning is needed.

Many of the governors under the APC-controlled government did nothing when the first index case of coronavirus was first identified in Lagos despite a general alarm raised by the NCDC director who in fact said ‘every state will get its share’.

Kano State which lost close to two dozen of its prominent indigenes to unknown causes in the last few days carried on as usual. Its governor, Abdullahi Ganduje who in an interview with BBC Hausa Service on Monday complained about shortage of sample collection equipment that “We are in a serious problem.

I can tell you the situation is really bad and scary.” is now blaming the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 for the tragedy that the state could have averted.

And perhaps there is no greater evidence of absence of governance than the fact that what is allocated to the health sector by the APC government is nothing to write home about, despite controlling the two houses of the parliament, more state houses of assembly and of course the majority of the current elected governors. They have no excuse not to change the narrative.

Tragically, what we see instead are the party’s elected lawmakers in the two houses and in the majority of the state house of assemblies, shamelessly cruising around N50m state-of-the art SUV Landcruisers with some APC governors terrorizing those who elected them in convoys of over half a dozen of the same N50m toys.

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