Reps and the arguments over imported Chinese medics

The coming to Nigeria of some medical personnel from the Republic of China over the ravaging Coronavirus pandemic was immediately greeted with mixed reactions, including divergent views by leaders of the House of Representatives. JOSHUA EGBODO writes.

Initial reaction 

When concerns were raised over reports that about 18 Chinese medics were on their way to Nigeria, to help in the fight against spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, after a meeting between the leadership and the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, and the Minister of State for Health, Olorunnimbe Mamora, came out with a verdict that the said medics must adhere to all laid down rules in the prevention of spread of the dreaded virus, including quarantine and immigration rules.

 According to him, the measures became necessary to allay fears already expressed by many Nigerians.

Gbajabiamila explained that the meeting was conveyed following widespread complaints that trailed the announcement of the coming of some Chinese medical personnel to assist Nigeria. “There are a lot of complaints about why we are bringing in Chinese doctors. It is incumbent on us, as lawmakers, to intervene, following the concerns of our constituents to understand the issues and get the right information to them.

“Our duty is to protect the Nigerian people, and every opportunity to increase our knowledge will not be thrown away. Having listened to you, what we are taking away from this meeting is that Nigeria needs this intervention from the Chinese, but you have to make it mandatory that they observe all the protocols laid down for the disease”, the speaker cautioned.

Opposition Reps kick

In a seeming discordance however, the minority leadership of the house, led by Ndudi Elumelu, was conspicuously absent at the last Monday’s meeting, but present were the Chief Whip, Mohammed Tahir Monguno, the Deputy Majority Leader, Peter Akpatason, and the Deputy Majority Whip, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha.

The Minority Caucus, through Elumelu some 24 hours later issued a statement, opposing the decision of the federal government to import Chinese doctors into the country over COVID-19, warning that bringing in medical personnel from the epi-centre of the dreaded disease will expose the nation to further danger. 

While asking the government to immediately rescind its decision and jettison all plans to import the doctors, the caucus argued that Nigerian doctors and nurses are doing well so far in managing the scourge, and expressed fears that “bringing in Chinese medical personnel, whose status, intentions and scope cannot be easily ascertained and controlled is totally against our national interest”, he said in a statement.

According to Elumelu, the federal government should note the apprehensions of Nigerians and professional bodies, including the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) over the decision. 

The caucus anchored its position on the perceived notions that there were alleged escalation of the pandemic in certain countries after Chinese doctors were reportedly involved, in addition to widespread trepidations over the safety of medical equipment and kits from China at this point in time.

Worrisome inconsistencies in explaining motive?

Further concerns emerged subsequently, when it was obvious that government’s explanations on the motive behind the coming of the medics were inconsistent with those who reportedly asked them to come.

At the said meeting with the leadership of the House of Representatives, the two ministers in charge of health explained that the medics won’t have contacts with Nigerian patients

The Minister of Health, Ehanire, told the leaders that Nigeria did not officially invite the Chinese team, but that it was an offer arranged by a group of Chinese companies based in Nigeria as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) to Nigeria, which to many did not form part of the initial news announcing the planned arrival of the medics

According to him, COVID-19 being a novel disease that every country is trying to understand, Nigeria will benefit more from the gesture because the existing health facilities and personnel in Nigeria to tackle the disease are inadequate.

On his part, Mamora explained that the Chinese personnel were mainly experts in molecular laboratory testing, an area where he said Nigeria have only two indigenous experts currently serving seven of the existing isolation centres. He added that the Chinese medics were expected to help in setting up molecular laboratories around the country as well as upgrade and reconfigure existing ones.

“Case testing is the bulk of work because some people are asymptomatic, so we need faster and rapid test kits and processing. We are doing molecular testing that helps us know the viral load as well. We need to expand our testing labs across the country. Presently, we have two lab scientists in molecular testing, serving seven labs across the country. As we are expanding across the country, we need more people to be trained in molecular testing for faster results”, Mamora stated.

Further attempts at putting the growing concerns to rest came later from Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Mr Boss Mustapha, who said the Chinese team of doctors was only coming to share their expertise but not to take over the care of COVID-19 patients, explaining that the medics came on the bill of China Civil Engineering and Construction Company, (CCECC).

For Nigeria or CCECC?

Contrary to the position presented by Mr. Mutapha, later media reports however quoted the Executive Director of CCECC, Mr Jacques Liao, as saying that “the primary purpose of the team is to provide CCECC employees with critical and necessary healthcare”, leaving a lot of Nigerians more confused over the real motive.

Were the Chinese medics therefore here to take care of staff of the invitee company, or to advice Nigerian doctors as enunciated by government representatives? This question has remained yet to be satisfactorily answered for many Nigerians at the moment.

Experts’ perspectives

Professional groups, especially in the medical sector have been consistent in opposing the invitation of the Chinese medical team, even after their arrival. The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), has been in the lead of the opposition, and even threatened to review its members’ participation in the fight against COVID-19, if the government’s decision to invite a Chinese medical team is not rescinded.

The NMA argued that letting the Chinese medics at this time was unnecessary at this time, as it may demoralise to the country’s frontline healthcare professionals who have been doing done well in containing the disease. 

PDP too

The country’s main opposition political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), also in expressing rejection of the coming of the Chinese medics, wondered why the authorities ignored protests by Nigerians and professional bodies, including the NMA, and allowed the foreigners into the country. According the party, “bringing in doctors from the hotbed of the plague would expose citizens to further risks”.

A case of resentment?

With stern opposition, and even government’s inability to satisfactorily convince many Nigerians on the development, the said team of medics arrived Abuja last Wednesday with loads of drugs and medical equipment, leaving many wondering if it was a case of resentment of the citizens’ feelings by the government.

Even with Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, who at the initial meeting with the health ministers admitted that the information gap on the Chinese gesture was regrettable and should be addressed immediately, assuring that the medics would be closely monitored, the heavy cloud of citizens’ doubt against the federal government still remains.

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