• Senate Decries Inadequate Response, Poor Screening At Airports, Seaports
• Foreign Airlines Violate Regulatory Procedures
• We’re Stepping Up Surveillance, Says FAAN
The story is well known: Ameyo Stella Adadevoh threw herself between Nigeria and painful death; to save millions of lives of her fellow citizens, she gave her own. She grabbed, forcefully, Patrick Sawyerr, the Liberian traveller, who, on arrival at the Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos, had been transferred to First Consultant Hospital in Lagos and prevented him from going to town with a virus of death he would have spread to millions in minutes.
Sawyerr took ill at the Airport, but at the hospital, Dr. Adadevoh suspected him to be Ebola virus patient and physically battled him to a stop, preventing him from leaving the hospital for a conference that brought him to Lagos. That brawl resulted in Adadevoh contacting the virus and she eventually died on August 19, 2014, thereby saving millions of Nigerians from the dreaded disease. Her selfless service having been largely forgotten by the Nigeria people and spurned by the Nigerian state which has hardly paid her due honours for her sacrifice till date, the worry now is: who, among the nation’s medical practitioners would be willing to follow her heroic example now that Coronavirus outbreak in Nigeria seems imminent?
Yesterday, members of the Senate Committeee on Health raised an alarm over alleged poor control and surveillance of deadly coronavirus disease at the country’s two busiest entry ports – Murtala Muhammad International Airport (MMIA) and Apapa Port, both in Lagos. The lawmakers, following an inspection of the two facilities, yesterday, were not pleased with the measures put in place to prevent coronavirus from entering Nigeria.
Most shocking to the lawmakers was that the foreign airlines were not complying with the regulators’ provisions on screening and self declaration by passengers before arrival in Nigeria.
Coronavirus has been found in about 28 countries, with about 31,420 cases confirmed with 638 deaths recorded as at yesterday. Other countries that have not been affected have set up measures to prevent the virus spread, following World Health Organisation’s declaration of the virus as a public health emergency.
Following the outbreak, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had called for a high level of vigilance by airlines, especially those operating international and regional flights, all designated point of entries (POEs), and the travelling public.
The NCAA’s Acting Director General, Capt. Sidi Abdullahi, in a letter to service providers mandated Pilots in Command (PIC) of aircraft to report to the Air Traffic Control (ATC) any suspected cases of communicable disease on board an aircraft in line with Nigerian Civil Regulation Rules (Nig. CARs).
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Dr. Ibrahim Oloriegbe and Chairman, Senate Committee on Primary Healthcare and Communicable Diseases, Chukwuka Utazi, along with the team from the Nigeria Health Watch who went on an oversight visit to MMIA and the seaport expressed displeasure at compliance rate and the screening exercise and how it is being handled with laxity.
Other issues discovered and condemned by the senate committee include: inadequate human resources, funding to purchase medical reagents and protective materials, unhygienic toilets, inferior face masks for the staff and hand sanitisers, noncompliance of airlines on security policies by the Federal Ministry of Health, poor state of the airport facilities, unavailability of vehicles for mobility of affected person to be examined and treated, among others.
Oloriegbe said from what had been observed from the activities of the port health services, the country was not prepared to contain disease outbreak.
He questioned why the port health services were not strict with ensuring airlines comply with the health policy of making passengers fill the mandatory “passengers self-reporting form” while onboard for screening, lamenting that this act could jeopardise the whole nation.
He went ahead to interview some foreign nationals that flew into Nigeria if they underwent all the screening and they confirmed that they were not checked on board, nor did they fill the health forms.
Whereas, The Guardian found the details of the form to indicate all the places the person must have gone to, the place of origin, phone number, address, the places the person is coming from, if it is a virus affected country, and all the itineraries among others.
Oloriegbe, who gave an assessment of their findings, said: “From what we have seen both at the airport and seaport, we have a lot of gaps that needs to be filled, for us to be assured and say we are prepared for any eventuality. The gaps include, starting from the human resources. At the airport and seaport we don’t have enough medical officers, or other health workers that need to be on ground.
“At the airport, we have only one doctor who is working 24 hours assiduously, whereas at the Apapa seaport we don’t have any doctor. We also have gaps of basic equipment that are required to be able to provide immediate response.
“At the seaport what is even worse is that they don’t even have capacity to move and inspect vessels. They have to depend on agents. We are just exposed, these gaps are huge and worrisome and it requires immediate action and we will do this when we get back to Abuja,” Oloriegbe said.
Utazi said it was disheartening to go round the entry ports in Nigeria and find that there were no standard structure and adequate response mechanism of handling eventualities of any disease outbreak, especially the coronavirus that is an issue of global concern.
“We don’t have adequate response mechanism handling eventualities of any disease outbreak. That is what we have just confirmed here. We wait until we have an issue, then we will start preparing and working for that, which doesn’t help anybody to accomplish any solution to the health needs of our people.”
He said having observed the gaps in the level of preparedness, which puts Nigeria at great risk of Coronavirus, the Senate Committee on health, “will go back to the drawing board, we will stop this haphazard approach of trying to stop our problem.
“We will put in place, permanent structures that can solve the problem, whether we have outbreak or not, we must put measures in all the points of entry. Through the sea or by the air or by land because we have people from countries at the west coast Africa that Nigeria shares border with. We must put all the structures in place and when we put them there, for all times, so that if there are eventuality, the staff would not be bothered because already they are there,” he assured.
While checking all the facilities at the ports, Oloriegbe and Utazi expressed displeasure over the state of the ports, as the windows are dirty, the ceiling broken and exposed naked wire seen at the detriment of people coming into the airports, while they called for renovation of the ports to fit global standard.
Oloriegbe further stressed that the proposed memo by the Minister of Health, requesting for N620 million to tackle the virus needed to be reviewed as more money would be required to curtail the virus, having seen the level of facilities put in place for the prevention as well as control of the virus in Nigeria.
“We were there yesterday (Thursday) and said they should submit the budget, we want to see the breakdown of what they want to do with this money. They mentioned to us that N331 million was released for Lassa Fever, but this one, it is N620 million, that they have released N71 million, but they have plan for the second phase of N620 million,” he said.
Oloriegbe noted that while other airports are not checked, such as that of Port Harcourt, Enugu as well as the land border, which is open for influx of people, it would cost Nigeria much more to address emergency or epidemics than what it would cost to prevent it.
“Look at the economic loss caused by coronavirus to the world now is huge. What would have been used to prevent will be far less. It is not China that loses alone. I asked if any ship has come from China. If none had come, it means there are certain industries and things that are suffering in Nigeria now because maybe the equipment was bought from China and they needed to have spare parts to fix into the machine, it is not available and that could be causing life,” he said
“Many airlines are not able to fly from any country to China now, they are losing money, bank transaction in terms of money, if nothing is coming from there it means money will not flow and banks will not make money, so their profit will go down and so on.
“It has been estimated, when Ebola happened, the among of billions of dollars that was lost in the world and this case of Coronavirus is six weeks, it is huge economically, so we should not be talking about this money, it is so small, compared to the worse of consequence is that anybody who loses his or her life, can you value the cost of that person’s life? The answer is no,” he added.
The Regional General Manager, Southwest and Manager, Muritala Muhammed Airport, Victoria Shin-Aba, said having discovered that most airlines do not comply with the health policy to contain the virus, the airport authority would, “be proactive in giving the passengers the form before they come down and I want to believe that by the time we do that, it will extend their turn around time which they wouldn’t like. So, when next they are coming they would do the right thing. We will ensure that any passenger who does not have the form would not come out from the plane to ensure Nigeria is safe.”
The NCAA had directed that where there is a suspected case of communicable disease on board an aircraft, the aircrew were to fill the aircraft General Declaration (Gen Dec) in line with Nig. CARs 184.108.40.206 and Annex 8 of International Health Regulations (IHR 2005). A completed aircraft General Declaration is to be submitted to the Port Health Services (PHS) on arrival at the designated point of entry.
Sick passengers on board an aircraft would be required to fill a Passenger Locator form in line with Nig.CARs 220.127.116.11. The completed Passenger Locator Forms are to be submitted to Port Health Services (PHS) on arrival at the designated point of entry.