COVID-19: Our health system’s too fragile to withstand another outbreak – PTF

By Bolaji Ogundele, Abuja

The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has warned that the nation’s healthcare system is so fragile and may not be able to withstand the effect of a major outbreak of COVID-19 or other infections.

This was one of the three key lessons that Nigeria must learn from the experience with COVID-19 in the last few months, according to the National Coordinator of the PTF, Dr Sani Aliyu, in the task force’s report presented to President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House on Tuesday.

According to him, to manage this fragility government would urgently need to embark on a deliberate and action-oriented reform of the nation’s healthcare sector, which is capable of placing the sector in better stead to face and weather any future health emergency.

Aside from the weakness exposed about the health sector, Aliyu said the experience had shown that COVID-19 is not going away very soon, just as it had become obvious that it could be managed and kept in check through the sort of efforts so far invested through the national response efforts.

He said as 2020 drew to a close, the PTF needed to redefine its role in the COVID-19 response and identify how to streamline into a lean but effective response body that would focus on tackling COVID-19 by sustaining the gains made while maintaining a reasonable level of readiness in response to this second surge of the pandemic but also other outbreaks in the future.

“In summary, Your Excellency, there are three key lessons we must carry forward:

COVID-19 will be with us for a while. Although this is the new normal, it continues to be just as deadly. Nevertheless, we have shown it is possible to keep it in check through the work we have done – we must persevere and continue the communication and enforcement aspects required to keep us safe until the epidemic is over.

“Next year will be all about the COVID-19 vaccine. This is a huge challenge for the country and will require your leadership and continued commitment, Mr. President. All hands must be on deck to deliver and overcome the challenges of securing the supply of safe and effective vaccines, logistics and acceptance.

“Our health system has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. The country’s health system is fragile and may not withstand the effect of a major outbreak of COVID-19 or other infections.

“There is an urgent need for a carefully thought through and action-oriented reform of the health sector that will improve our health security and place the country in a better position to manage future health threats.

“However, it is not over yet. A lot more work needs to be done to enable us to transition back to normal. I am confident that working together and with your continued support, we will overcome this challenge once again,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, in his address at the report presentation event, emphasised the need for government to create a dedicated fund to cater for pandemics and other health emergencies.

Mustapha, who said this was one of the lessons learned from the COVID-19 experience, also noted that the phenomenon of evacuating Nigerian citizens from the Diaspora during emergencies should become a government policy resolution.

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According to him, the experience had taught the government of the significance of and inherent benefits of effective communication with Nigerians as well as employing multi-sectoral collaborations as tools in facing national challenges.

“The phenomenon of the evacuation of citizens from all over the world should become a significant policy issue for the government. There’s a need to urgently establish a dedicated fund to address all pandemics and outbreaks.

“Across the board, several public sector roles, practices, systems and some statutes require review/revision to effectively respond to extreme emergency situations.

“The immense benefits derivable from multi-sectoral collaboration to address issues. Effective communication with Nigerians. Under emergency conditions, well-rounded considerations should be given to all sectors.

“Our health sector will require major reforms and must be proactive. Economic sustainability, recovery and preservation of lives and livelihoods remain critical at all times. Structured data collection, analysis and retrieval remain critical for effective governance.

“The significance of building on synergy established with the private sector, the National Assembly and the subnational entities. These lessons are by no means exhaustive,” he said.