The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic impacted the year 2020 negatively with projected long-lasting effects across all sectors, especially the health sector in Nigeria.
The most impacted were the molecular diagnostic facilities. The virus compelled Nigeria to increase its molecular biology laboratories from only four at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 to more than 97 at the end of that year.
The virus also compelled Nigeria to upgrade many other health infrastructures and services as a quick response to the pandemic.
Awareness and entrenchment of Infection Prevention and Control measures equally received a boost as messages on the need to maintain high hygiene standards went viral, while respiratory etiquette amongst healthcare professionals was also enhanced.
As part of measures to combat the virus, Nigeria also announced policies to minimise infections originating in its hospitals just as healthcare professionals got more Personal Protective Equipment for their safety and those of others.
Explaining the impact of the pandemic on Nigeria’s heath sector, Minister of State for Health, Sen. Olorunnimbe Mamora, said that COVID-19 would continue to have a significant impact on the way Nigerians lived the next few years.
He said while the virus raged globally, Nigeria increased its test laboratories from three to 97 and established 131 treatment centres with 7,040, 256 Intensive Care Unit beds.
Seventy-nine of the laboratories are open to the public at no cost to ensure that Nigerians have access to testing when needed.
Incoming international travellers requiring mandatory testing would visit any of the other accredited 18 private laboratories of their choice for a test at a fee.
Put together, the 97 laboratories have the capacity to test at least 15,000 samples daily.
“Sample collection centres have been established and are spread across local government areas to lessen travel time for sample collection,’’ Mamora said.
Mamora added that 1,033,858 people were tested at the laboratories with 101,331 testing positive; 80,491 of these were successfully treated and discharged, while 1,361 died.
“This is a case fatality rate of 1.5 per cent,’’ he said.
The minister said Nigeria also trained more than 17,000 healthcare workers in infection prevention and control, laboratory operations, and case management in 2020.
The minister noted that COVID-19 is not just a health pandemic, but also a socio-economic pandemic.
““We have less funds to work with, so we can’t finance the health sector the way we would have loved to.
“We’re talking about good remuneration, fixing of hospitals, ensuring steady electricity supply, potable water, the right equipment for diagnoses and treatment and all of that and yet there is economic downturn,’’ he said.
Mamora said also that COVID-19 turned out to be new dawn for Nigeria’s manufacturing sector, where manufacturers were able to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), medical aprons, gowns, coveralls as well as gloves, masks, respirators and goggles.
He said the reverse side was that the care and attention given to HIV, tuberculosis and other ailments ebbed.
Addressing the issue, Dr Abigail Banji, a Health Economist, said that the impact of COVID-19 highlighted the imperative for sustainable investment in the country’s health systems; in the workforce; in work conditions; in training and equipment, especially in relation to PPEs and occupational safety.
Banji expressed regret that successive Nigerian governments allocated less than 10 per cent of annual budgets to the health sector in spite of the Abuja Declaration of African Heads of States and Governments of 2001 to allocate at least 15 per cent of annual budgets to the sector.
She said in 2019, Nigeria accounted for 20 per cent of world maternal mortality and had only about 24, 000 hospitals.
“In 2018, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control struggled on a government budget of less than four million dollars as against the U.S. Centre for Disease Control (CDC), which had 11 billion dollars in the same year.
This comes to less than 0.02 cents per Nigerian that year, compared with the CDC’s 33 dollars per American.
She observed that healthcare workers went on strike at least twice since COVID-19 began over peculiarity allowances.
Banji added that more than 1,000 Nigerian doctors emigrated to the United Kingdom between 2018 and 2019 seeking better pay, an issue that also contributed to the low ratio of working doctors to the country’s population.
Also speaking on the issue, Dr Gabriel Adakole, a Public Health Expert, said that COVID-19 pandemic threw up many inadequacies in Nigeria’s health system, including its primary health care.
While describing the country’s primary health care system as very weak, Adakole said most health facilities were run-down, with health workers mostly concentrated in states and local government areas.
“Routine health services are not being rendered as effectively as they should be. Some hospitals were reluctant to accept patients suffering from ailments unrelated to COVID-19.
“Nigerians were left without access to affordable health care which the Alma Ata declaration of 1978 set out to achieve.
“The Alma Ata declaration was a major milestone of the twentieth century in the field of public health, and it identified primary health care as the key to the attainment of the goal of Health for All.
“According to the WHO, tertiary and secondary health facilities are overwhelmed with Nigerians who should have been treated either in or near their communities,’’ he said.
Adakole noted that previous epidemics and even COVID-19 brought about increased demand for ““speculative therapies’’ with limited scientific evidence on their effectiveness.