COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria is part of the worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first case of COVID-19 was reported in the west African nation on 28 January 2020, when an Italian citizen in Lagos tested positive for the virus.
The COVID-19 is much more than a health crisis. By stressing every one of the countries it touches, it has the potential to create devastating social, economic and political crises that will leave deep scars. Every day, people are losing jobs and income, with no way of knowing when normality will return. The International Labour Organization estimates that 25 million jobs could be lost.
The COVID 19 Pandemic is expected to place immense pressure on Nigeria’s health care system and could result in a serious economic and fiscal pressure.
Balancing the curve
Nigeria’s federal and state authorities wasted no time in communicating clearly with the public and four testing centres spread geographically throughout the country were upgraded to serve as reference laboratories. In line with the national strategy, government continue to scale up diagnostic capacity for COVID-19 in Nigeria. 53 labs have now been activated for COVID-19 testing across 31 states of the country.
Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has been investing in epidemic preparedness for the past three years and has helped to set up Public Health Emergency Operations Centers (PHEOCs) in the country. Although, many Nigerians have difficulty accessing health care as the healthcare system is plagued by chronic underfunding and limited infrastructure, and even in normal circumstances.
A large percentage of people only experience minor flu-like symptoms from the coronavirus and recover within a few weeks, but the virus is highly contagious and can be spread by those who appear well. COVID-19 can cause severe illness, including pneumonia, some patients, particularly those with underlying health problems.
As the spread of the coronavirus intensifies the control measures across the vast federation of 36 states is a tall order. However, the Nigerian government has put in place a number of measures, one of which is the lockdown in the three states of Lagos, Ogun, FCT and lately Kano, which have high COVID-19 confirmed cases. Similarly, several other states have adopted measures, such as movement restriction, in order to curb the spread of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, implementing testing is quite challenging, as a result of stigmatization of people with COVID-19 and some states are not as proactively pushing testing as they should. However, the stigma associated with COVID-19 means many are keen to avoid tracers. People commonly turn off their phones, deny their identity and lie about when they last saw coronavirus patients.
While the majority of Nigerian populace is now moving around and ignoring safety measures after the lockdowns ease. Traffic jams have returned to Nigerian such as Lagos, increasing the time it takes tracers to reach contacts, many of whom are already hard to find because their homes have no formal address.
There could be underreporting of deaths and severe disease, but at least we would see a part of it in the hospitals. It is a tricky thing because it could become very dramatic, but so far it has not been says Chikwe Ihekweazu who is director of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
Dealing with multiple outbreaks has certainly helped with infection control and prevention techniques, however, there is a tendency towards desensitization due to the fact that Nigeria currently has an ‘out-of-control’ surge of Lassa Fever cases.
The lockdown triggered by COVID-19 has led to disruption in health, nutrition, food aid, school feeding, safety net/social protection and Early Childhood Development services with high impacts on the vulnerable groups. Malnutrition and other co-morbidities (for example HIV, tuberculosis) are considered a risk factor for complications in people with COVID-19, due to a compromised immune system.
Like many other African countries, there was concern of nutrition situation in Nigeria before the COVID-19 pandemic. Stunting and wasting rates were 37% and 7% respectively. Deficiencies in key micronutrients were also widely affecting the Nigerian population, mainly children and women with only 34.5% children 6-23 months old meeting the minimum dietary diversity needed to ensure adequate intake of micronutrients such as vitamin A, iron, zinc and iodine. Equally, less than half of children in Nigeria eat iron rich/fortified foods. There is concern that the prevalence of child stunting, wasting, and micronutrient deficiencies is expected to increase in the coming months due to the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, with attendant limited access to adequate, diverse and nutritious foods.
The Nigerian economic vulnerabilities
The government of Nigeria, whose revenue could be slashed by more than half this year due to the oil-price slump, has finalized plans for a revised budget that keeps spending almost intact, and that will mean more borrowing.
Nigeria’s services, trade and financial sectors that contribute over 30 percent of the GDP would suffer significant disruptions. Contraction in these sectors could result in significant job losses both in the formal and informal job markets. This could be a severe blow and could be a threat to instability as youth unemployment or underemployment is approximated to be at 55 percent high. Coronavirus has led to disruptive economic activities of the Nigerian state which is by extension vulnerable to external shocks and devastating consequences in death and the near-collapse on the informal sector.
Implications of an outbreak in the country’s protracted conflict and security zones of the North-East could be devastating. It is within this humanitarian and development context that the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic looms largest, particularly for its 1.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the three states (Borno, Adamawa and Yobe).
What’s next on the other side
In March 2020, Nigeria’s central bank announced a credit relief of $136.6M to businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. This government package focuses on the households, small and medium-sized enterprises. While airline service providers, hotels, health care merchants are beneficiaries of the fund.
Lockdown by authorities in Africa’s most populous country to contain the spread of coronavirus pandemic moved the nation of 200 million people away from cash for digital payments. Consequently, the government also has intensified effort to diversify income sources by supporting investments in agriculture and processing industries as a result of the crash in the price of crude oil, which serve as the nation’s top revenue earner.
Experts sees local and foreign investors going into food cultivation, processing, storage and distribution to take advantage of the expansion in the industry. The country’s biggest banks will also attract new investments and customers as most lenders are deficient in capital.
Striking the right balance with certainty
It will require a whole society approach to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to cushion the potentially devastating impact it may have on vulnerable people and economies. Therefore enhancing trust and cooperation, within and among communities, and between people, regions, states and the Federal Government is paramount for a sustained fight against the pandemic.
For Nigeria, like any other country affected by the crisis, recovery will require investment in innovative approaches for restoration of health systems; co-creation of culturally sensitive social-protection mechanisms, peace and cohesion building measures that integrate recovery of lost livelihood. A conflict-sensitive approach in such a case will be critical in the identification of risk and opportunities to ensure strategies do not worsen existing (latent) fragility, but rather help strengthen social cohesion where possible.