COVID-19: Minister deploys health officers to coordinate strategies in high risk areas

In a bid to curb the deadly Covid-19 pandemicHELEN OJI reports on the measures put in place to beat the pandemic

The proactive emergency measures taken to prevent the Nigerian state against global rapid spread of the Coronavirus disease named COVID-19 and declared an international public health emergency by the World Health Organisation,

Nigeria has unfortunately recorded an index cases in the past one month which has made the country to be under lockdown, in other to stop the virus from spreading.  The Federal Ministry of Environment has a role to play in  support of the health sector in tackling this pandemic that is ravaging the entire world. The transmission of the virus has occurred internationally from civet cats to humans and from dromedary camels to humans affirming its zoonotic nature, while several known corona viruses are circulating in animals which are however yet to infect human beings. In China, where the COVID-19 originates from, bats are found to be reservoir of infection.

Additional, high suspicion is being placed in markets as a part of epidemiologic investigation through environmental sampling from seafood market targeting the source and type of wildlife species offered for sale there. Risk factors such as mingling of people, consumption of sea foods and wild life otherwise known as ‘Bush meat’ increase human susceptibility to infection. Human to Human infection is largely responsible for fast transmission of the virus.

Fumigating the environment 

According to the Minister, the Nigerian response needs to be comprehensive, multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral in nature learning from countries presently at war with the novel COVID. “The response also should be non-pharmaceutical based as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

He further stated that the environment sector has deploy environmental health officers to coordinate essential strategies in identified high risk areas in Nigeria. Public places such as markets, motor parks, train stations, schools will be put under surveillance. 

“The international best practices of instituting Cordon Sanitary and Social Distancing in communities will be utilised in other to limit contact of people with those that may be infected with the viral disease. 

Specifically, preventing the contamination of the environment in these settings will be in the hands of the environmental health response and preparedness. Universal temperature monitoring, masking, and hand washing in addition to mobilization protocols shall be prioritized in the Environmental Contingency Plan. 

Abubakar said that the environmental health officers are to beef up surveillance by Port Health Officers and the environmental decontamination, disinfection shall be taken in high exposure areas with a view in killing the envelope viruses. 

He urged the ministries of environment in the state to be proactive and key into the preparedness in their respective state and to engage butchers not to handle, slaughter, dress, sell, or prepare meat originating from wild animals or sick livestock which have died from unknown causes. 

He emphasised that Nigerians should ensure regular hand washing, cover their month, nose when coughing and sneezing, adding that “avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness

Monitoring committee 

Abubakar has  presented to the public Guidelines for Environmental Health practices and Standards Monitoring Committee in order to make sure that those habitats where rodents and all other vectors exist are eliminated.

Abubakar said all the states of the Federation have been mapped out, including motor parks and other habitats that provide avenue for them to exist have also been mapped out.

The Minister who was represented at the presentation of the Guidelines by the permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Environment Dr. Bakari Wadinga posited that this guideline was a retooling for effectiveness, saying “we have that experience, and we are all out to make sure that this time around we succeed and you know once it comes to coordination on such issues of national importance, every other person is on board”

Proactive responses 

The representative of the Registrar, Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria (EHORECON), Dr. Baba Yakubu Mohammed stated that the Guideline was in line with the Ministerial directives that the Environmental Health personnel should be on board to contain and to identify key indicators and the risk factors that are responsible for harbouring these emerging and re-emerging diseases.

According to Dr. Baba Yakubu “it is not only Lassa Fever or corona Virus, we are faced with a lot of challenges of emerging and re-emerging disease.

He disclosed that the Environmental Health workforce is ever ready and that there were more than 35,000 workforces which was why the Ministry, the  Minister and the Permanent Secretary organized the forum to strengthen the preventive health of the Nigerian population.

On the requirement of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr. Baba Yakubu Mohammed said under normal circumstances , the WHO requirement is one Environmental Health Officers to 8000 population and that the number is inadequate, while promising that in view of this constraint, the Council would be able to make an impact and see how the Nigerian Environment Can be protected.

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