With 172 confirmed cases of COVID 19 infection in 2 days, Kano is rapidly becoming the epicenter of the virus in Nigeria. Considering the economic centrality of Kano, this can be a significant risk to the rest of northern Nigeria and other neighboring west and central African countries.
Key challenges to the response in Kano include:
▪ Poor community awareness, ignorance and denial of the pandemic
▪ State-centric and uncoordinated response
▪ State – society trust deficit.
▪ limited public health facilities and personnel – including laboratories and isolation centres
▪ Increasing attrition of health service providers
▪ Overwhelming informal economy, poverty and exclusion
▪ Politicization of the response
While support from the Federal government, development partners and private sector is essential in overcoming these challenges, there are several state and local government initiatives that could help bring the response on track. Immediate actions should include the following:
1.Increased Community Awareness and sensitization:
a. The state government should set up nonpartisan COVID 19 Ward level Committees. The committees should be made up of traditional leaders, religious leaders, senior civil servants, youth groups, women and girls. They should be made to support lockdown and self-isolation at community level, create awareness, support contact tracing, manage burials and keep register of all burials during this period. They can also serve as important community interface with the state response team and NCDC officials.
b. Senior civil servants and teachers (grade level 9 and above) should be mobilized and deployed to carryout community awareness and sensitization. They should be given basic community education and information materials to help raise awareness in their respective communities.
c. Depoliticize the response by engaging all the segments of the society, including the opposition political parties. Recognize that this is a challenging situation and all opinion groups are important in galvanizing support for the response.
d. Set up emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene faculties, especially in high density areas and all public places – water-tanks and hand washing facilities should be made available and depending on awareness, disposable and reusable facemasks.
2. The state and local government should repurpose their 2020 Budgets by converting all funds for non-essential projects – including resources budgeted for road construction, bridges, flyovers, office buildings, training, foreign travels etc. to fund the response. Available funds can be used to support the following:
a. Establish more laboratories: Kano currently has two laboratories including the one commendably established by BUK. The metropolitan Kano needs at least two additional labs – one at Murtala Mohammed and Nassarawa Specialist hospitals. There should also be at least one for each of the other senatorial districts or each of the “new emirates”.
b. Set up additional isolation centres – Kano need nothing less than 10,000 bed isolation centres in the immediate. This can be achieved through conversion of some hotels, government facilities and establishment of temporary centres. The private sector should be further mobilized to support this effort.
c. Procure more ambulances and operational vehicles to enhance mobility and efficient contact tracing.
d. Deploy information technology advanced GPS, decentralize telephone contracts and put more personnel to support contact tracing.
e. Invest in Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and incentive for frontline health service providers. This will help manage the increasing level of attrition and infection of health personnel.
3. Palliative and emergency food support at community level. Government, private sector, humanitarian organizations and charitable individual should invest more in poor people whose income and livelihood cannot sustain continuous lockdown, particularly in this period of Ramadan. This effort should be depoliticized and handled at the ward level, or any environment closer to the people. The process of distribution should be nonpartisan, nondiscriminatory, dignifying and accountable.
4. Reconstitute the state response team to include civil society groups and work closely with the state civil society network to deepen public accountability and rebuild public trust.
5. Coordinate closely with neighboring state governments in contact tracing and control of interstate movements.
Thank you, as you take these necessary and compelling actions to reverse the current trend and save the state from humanitarian catastrophe.
Hussaini Abdu, PhD is the Nigeria Country Director of Plan International.