Mrs. Abimbola Majekodunmi-Onokoya is an American trained nurse. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a Masters of Science Nursing (MSN). A one time Ogun Central Senatorial candidate at the 2019 general elections under the Green Party of Nigeria (GPN), she crossed carpeted to the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and participated actively in the 2019 governorship election that produced Prince Dapo Abiodun as the executive governor of the state. In this interview with journalists, she said healthcare system in Nigeria is in comatose. She also shed light on what needs to be done by the federal and state governments during this crucial period of the coronavirus pandemic. Excerpts:
* As an expert in health sector, what is your view of the coronavirus?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced COVID-19 as a pandemic. Pandemic simply means an epidemic or disease that spreads over different continents while affecting a large number of people. Currently, there is no vaccine that can prevent COVID-19. As an expert in community based research nursing, this pandemic started in China. Covid-19 spreads in various ways, including person-to-person spread.
The virus is spread mainly from person-to-person, among people who are in close contact with one another; through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. It spreads from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
Thus, it is of great importance for people to adhere to set guidelines in order to combat spread of COVID -19. The government guidelines include avoiding crowded places, staying at home and washing hands after every 30 minutes and always keeping social distance. We are all aware that Nigerian healthcare system is not at par with the world standards. Therefore, if we people don’t combat the spread of this pandemic, then it will soon overwhelm our hospitals. ‘How to best tackle Coronavirus’
* Why do you say that?
For instance, if we can compare developed countries like Italy where healthcare services have been overwhelmed and even the President had to agree that despite their advanced healthcare system, they are unable to solve the solution. It is a deadly disease as this country recorded high deaths within a day, as much as 838.
These statistics should make Nigerians have a re-think about their living patterns. However, we are all Africans and we are characterized by greetings, family get-together among other social norms. We should first of all avoid such norms or values at this time so as to curb the spread of COVID 19. In addition, we can have a total lockdown if the spread isn’t controlled, knowing how well the disease started in Wuhan China. Despite the fact that Wuhan was first hit, it has been able to recover as there was lockdown for two months. The lockdown was lifted after people recovered and new cases are no longer being experienced.
Looking at the percentage allocated for health and education in our budget, would you say we are prepared for attacks like COVID-19? Today, about 70 per cent of the country’s population still spends out-of-pocket for health services, according to Budgit, a platform analyzing Nigerian budgets and public data.
I have seen some state governments trying to refurbish the old hospitals that are not where the world is with health care. Good qualitative health care is not cheap; it is not a joke anywhere in the world. The less privileged need affordable health insurance. But my question is, do they know about health insurance? Is it affordable for them? Is there awareness campaigns? These statistics are best indicators that much needed to be done. Firstly, programmes like Universal Health care funded by World Bank should help in fast-tracking levels of healthcare.
Yes, we can then have world class hospitals in different parts of Nigeria. We can do it, we are the best black doctors in America, and 70 per cent of black doctors in the US are Nigerians. We also have well trained Nigerian nursing practitioners and registered nurses in the US. We have the logistics, the national assembly, state governors and the presidency need to come together and think about building world class hospitals in partnership with private sectors.
* So, how can we go about achieving this?
For a start, in every state in Nigeria, we need at least two world class hospitals. Such moves will help in generating more revenue as people will not travel to other countries in search of better healthcare services. In addition, better remuneration of healthcare workers so as to avoid brain drain. Most Nigerians working in other developed countries will recognize better opportunities and come back home. Lastly, we need to advance our specialization in healthcare schools in order to cater for different healthcare needs.
* What is your dream about Nigeria’s health sector, particularly your state, Ogun?
Better healthcare to all citizens regardless of class, my dream for healthcare in Nigeria is for us to have the best health care system in the whole of Africa even if it’s not in the whole of Africa, at least the western part. Let’s turn Nigeria to the Mecca of healthcare. World class healthcare system has to do with expertise, equipment as well as staffing of hospitals. I am hoping that so much attention will be centred on healthcare now that Coronavirus has hit the entire world and no one can escape from Nigeria to London, Dubai, India or America.
I will quote the words of a Kenyan governor who once said “Coronavirus is somehow good as it will bring equality, We as leaders we are used to getting treatment overseas at the expense of the poor but now we can’t move anywhere, even, no country is welcoming any foreigner now. We need to reflect on our health care system.”
In Nigeria, we need to get our priority right. The cost of running government is too high; why do we need to buy Toyota Camry for senators or give them housing allowances in a country that is struggling to pay a minimum monthly wage of N30,000. Most United States senators and representatives make an annual salary of $174,000. Those in leadership make a bit more. For example, the speaker of the House makes $223,500 and majority and minority leaders in the House and Senate make $193,400.
* Why do we pay so much money to our senators and Reps in Nigeria?
I hope at the end of this pandemic, Nigeria will take a serious look at its healthcare and educational systems. Doctors, nurses and teachers/lecturers must be well paid without owing them monthly salaries. They need their rewards on earth just like the politicians. I hope this coronavirus has taught us many lessons. Such lessons should bring a meaningful change to health care system in Nigeria.
I have once contested for Ogun Central Senate in 2019; I truly wish to be on ground to help my people first. Despite my actual location, my heart and mind are always in Nigeria. As they say, East or West, home is the best. I have businesses and charity organisations in Nigeria. My advice for political establishments in Nigeria is to encourage people in Diaspora that are reaching out with helping hands to input their knowledge from the western world.
Notwithstanding the vast knowledge they are bringing into the country, most people get frustrated when being told to go and queue from the back. We can only try if given opportunities. Atimes, politicians ask: “When did you join the party? Don’t you know where you belong in your local government/senatorial districts?” How do you expect a leader from western world to go and queue?.
I believe political appointments should be given based on merits regardless of who comes last. Many Nigerians abroad really wish to help this country, but how much do you expect somebody that westerners are looking up to with so much experience do at that juncture? Many will just return to where they were coming from and this is very sad indeed. It takes a whole lot of sacrifices to leave everything behind to relocate back to Nigeria.
* As a concerned Nigerian, what do you think the federal, state governments should do at this crucial period of Coronavirus?
Yes, I don’t think we have enough testing kits in Nigeria. I can say categorically government needs to get more testing kits that can give results within eight hours. Can you believe we only have seven labs in the entire country? Total closure is what we need just as the Chinese locked down Wuhan for weeks but with the level of poverty in Nigeria, many people may die from hunger, poverty, even before the virus, so it may be very hard to lockdown Nigeria. I am sure government is looking into how to go about food distribution before embarking on complete shutdown.
But how do we go about social distancing with people living in slums, or self-isolation with a family living in one room, or people taking keke napep or bus when people are supposed to sit/stand six feet apart? What about the virus sharing through touching the Naira? Sure, we don’t have enough gloves, hand sanitizer and N500 mask for personal protections. Everybody must wear mask, whichever type of mask they want to wear. Whether they want to sew it with fabrics, like with white fabrics or towels, they must double it if the fabric is thin and make big masks from it because it stops the spread by droplets from the mouth.
If somebody coughs or sneezes or laughs so much, it can travel up to like 10 feet and it could land on somebody who does not have it before. Some droplets live in the air. For example, if somebody coughs or sneezes in an elevator and comes out and another person enters the elevator, that person could catch the virus from there. So, everybody must wear masks, whichever type it is. For instance, if a person that has it sneezes or coughs, that droplets will not spread because he is wearing a mask.
The droplets will stay with that person. It is compulsory that you wear your mask, especially when you are going to the market or going out to the streets, even while at home. It is a precaution we all must take to be safe. Thinking seriously about the average Nigerians, most especially the less privileged, how do we pass information about the management of coronavirus to them? I believe teachings can be done via radio, TV and social media.
* What with our experience with constant blackout, how do we get such messages across effectively?
Radio should be more focused on as many who don’t have power supply depend on batteries to power their radio. Corona virus teachings should be simple, using understandable dialects preferably in Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa and Pidgin English.
Teachings should be as simple as “do not panic, stay at home, don’t visit friends and families, wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitizer, do not shake hands, don’t touch your mouth and nose, drink hot water and tea frequently, report fever, uncontrollable cough, sore throats, shortness of breath to the nearest state hospital. Do not take chloroquine if not prescribed by a doctor.
There have been talks about palliatives to ameliorate the sufferings of the people during this period ?
I strongly believe Nigerians also deserve stimulus package even if it’s between N50,000 to N100,000 depending on the numbers of 100million adults registered BVN with a budget of N1.5trillion. All adults over 18yrs should go and register for BVN.
I believe it’s the right thing to do to save people from hunger and financial problems since they are under movement restrictions caused by this pandemic. In addition to stimulus package, the Central Bank of Nigeria needs to lower interest rates on loans, cut off VAT, ensure easy access to different loans/grants, lower taxes etc.
Low interest on loans, grants and other monetary policies alone can’t help stimulate economy. Small scale businesses should not be left out. To Nigerians, please pay your tax, Americans are benefiting today from 23 per cent from individual taxes and 33 per cent on business taxes every income.