COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa. The case of Nigeria.

Most of us are aware about the evolution of COVID-19 pandemic in European countries. However, there is less information about the situation in Sub-Saharan African, where the low availability of resources and the weakened health systems make even more difficult to face the pandemic.

We have spoken with Suleiman Oshioke Yakubu, a Public Health Specialist from Nigeria −the most populated African country with over 200 million inhabitants− about the situation in his country.

Suleiman has over 10 years of experience improving access to quality healthcare services for underserved populations in Nigeria. Moreover, he is an ardent advocate for Universal Healthcare Coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Can you explain the epidemiological situation of COVID-19 in Nigeria?

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Nigeria was recorded on the 27th February 2020. The index case was a 44-year old Italian citizen, who imported the coronavirus from Milan, and was diagnosed of COVID-19 in Lagos State.

On 28th February, the Minister of Health announced the activation of a multi-sectorial national Emergency Operations Centre, which was established at level 3 −the highest level of response in the country for public health emergencies−. There are currently over 1200 cases, and 40 deaths according to the WHO situation report from 27th April.

What are the major response activities being implemented in Nigeria to face the pandemic?

Various innovative and context-specific strategies have been employed by the Nigerian Centres for Disease Control (NCDC) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. These strategies are aimed at preventing, detecting, controlling, and mitigating the impact of the pandemic, and include:

  • Activation of State-level Emergency Operations Centres across the 36 States in the country.
  • The president established a multi-sectorial and intergovernmental Presidential Task Force for the control of COVID-19.
  • Deployment of NCDC Rapid Response teams (field epidemiologists) to support various States response.
  • Set-up of additional regional reference laboratories with capabilities to isolate and confirm coronavirus cases.
  • The Federal Government announced the implementation of “stay-at-home measures” (lockdown strategy) in most States across the country. All the international and local airports in Nigeria were closed in order prevent the importation and also to curtail the spread of the pandemic in the country.

What are the main challenges that your country is facing?

The Nigerian healthcare system has a prolonged history of battling with multiple infectious disease outbreaks, such as the Ebola epidemic in 2014, as well as measles and monkeypox outbreaks and an ongoing Lassa fever epidemic. The combination of these other infectious diseases with the ongoing COVID-19 response poses a major strain on the general healthcare delivery system, contributing to the depletion of an already scarce healthcare budget.

Another major issue are the economic challenges posed by the compulsory stay-at-home orders, as part of the containment efforts, which are more severe among vulnerable populations who rely on daily wages for their sustenance and do not have any form of social protection from the Government.

Map of Nigeria showing 32 states and Federal Capital Territory affected by COVID-19 (Source: NCDC).

Can you provide some recommendations for the management of the pandemic in your country?

The control and management of COVID-19 in Nigeria requires a whole governmental approach, in collaboration with the private sector, to mobilise resources and technical support to adequately control the disease. Moreover, more rapid diagnostic kits, laboratory reagents, and personal protective equipment are urgently needed to effectively detect and control the spread of the virus. Finally, adequate social protection and palliatives should be provided to vulnerable populations to enable them to cope with the harsh economic challenges posed by this pandemic.

We want to thank deeply Laura Moro for contacting Suleiman Oshioke Yakubu to do this interview, and the interviewee for his collaboration.