As Nigerians continue to grapple and adjust to our new reality in light of COVID-19, one thing remains undeniable; everyone is affected by our wonky healthcare system. Businesses, schools, institutions, organizations, individuals and the government. Of course, this observation is so obvious that it is basically a cliché at this point, a cosmetic anthem. But it’s core truth is strong and urgent now more than ever.
Nigeria’s healthcare system has in these times come under serious pressure to meet the escalating coronavirus cases, a pressure no one can escape. In this interview, BeatingCorona speaks with Fehintola Ajogbasile, a health worker at the forefront of the fight against coronavirus, on Nigeria’s current health-care strength, the possible impact of Covid19 on our collective mental health and how we can all play our part in fighting the deadly virus.
BeatingCorona: Can we get more context on the work you do?
Fehintola Ajogbasile: As we all know, the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) is one of the reference laboratories for molecular testing of COVID19. As a research fellow in ACEGID, my job description is to test COVID19 samples sent to ACEGID. I work around the clock because we keep getting an influx of samples from six States (Osun, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun, and Kwara State) and we have to get the results out as soon as possible while ensuring our safety as well. I also use advanced genomic technologies to understand the virus and unravel its genetic diversity and transmission patterns as this would help to inform drug and vaccine design/development.
BC: As a health worker who is at the forefront of the COVID-19 fight, how do you think our healthcare system is reflected? What does this pandemic say about where we are and where we urgently need to be as a country?
F.A: As a country, I would rate our response to the pandemic as average so far. There are a lot of gaps in the health care system that reflects the evident failures of the government in this sector.
For instance, we do not have enough infectious disease hospitals with state-of-the-art equipment to handle pandemics such as the COVID-19. There is a need to build more infectious disease specialist hospitals and hire competent hands.
There are not enough well trained laboratory personnel in the country. Those who are trained and are on the frontline are overwhelmed with the workload. The government should really invest in personnel trainings.
Honestly, the NCDC has done a great job so far. However, it is evident that the government needs to fund this organization as much as they fund the Military as this will help prepare us for future outbreaks and pandemics because like it or not we will continue to have disease outbreaks.
BC: What are currently some of the major challenges health workers are facing in carrying out their duties?
F.A: Limited testing materials and personal protective equipment (PPE).Personnel welfare is key. In times like this, all frontline workers should be well compensated as this job is as risky as it gets.
BC: What weight do you think this pandemic; the lockdowns, overwhelming information, economic imbalance, imperfect safety measures, will bear on the mental health of Nigerians?
F.A: Everyone has a routine and this pandemic has interrupted everyone’s lives. Lots of plans, goals and new year resolutions have been put on hold or altered. This is a lot as we were not prepared for this as a people so yes, this is a lot of weight on the mental health of Nigerians and the world in general. However, Nigerians are very strong and we have the unique ability to adapt to any situation we find ourselves in so we will be stronger after this.
BC: Do you think Nigeria is prepared for the radical changes set to happen when this pandemic ends?
F.A: Honestly, yes. This is not the first pandemic we have faced as a country, (for instance, the Spanish Flu of 1918 killed about 500,000 Nigerians). We will adapt and continue with our lives as we have done in the past. Although people would lose their jobs, some will die, but when it’s all said and done, we will adjust and find our footing again.
BC: How would you advise Nigerians to go about guarding their mental health at this time?
F.A: Some of the things that are known to affect one’s mental health is stress (especially as a result of fear). A simple way to guard your mental health is to educate yourself about the nature of the virus, transmission and how to protect yourself.
BC: How do you think citizens can be more responsible with not just their health and those of others around them?
F.A: Stop spreading fake news, do not engage in conspiracy theories (e.g. 5G is responsible for COVID19).