Medical and other professional associations who have been consistent in opposing the invitation of an 18-man Chinese medical team to Nigeria have continued to show resentment since their arrival.
The Nigerian doctors’ association, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), has been in the vanguard of the opposition and had threatened to review their “participation in the fight against COVID-19” if the government’s decision to invite a Chinese medical team is not rescinded.
They said inviting China is unnecessary at this time and is demoralising to the country’s frontline healthcare professionals who have, in their view, done well in containing the coronavirus.
As of Saturday, 305 cases have been confirmed, 51 patients have been discharged and seven deaths have been recorded in Nigeria to coronavirus, a record considered commendable by the doctor’s association who felt it was demeaning for foreign experts to be brought in to assist.
The government, in an attempt to assuage concerns, said the team of doctors was only coming to share their expertise but not to take over the care of covid19 patients.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, explained that the doctors came on the bill of China Civil Engineering Construction Cooperation(CCECC).
The Executive Director of CCECC, Jacques Liao also said “the primary purpose of the team is to provide CCECC employees with critical and necessary healthcare.”
These, however, had little effect on the blistering resentment that has trailed Wednesday’s arrival of the foreigners who flew in via Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja with a planeload of drugs and medical equipment.
Nigeria’s main opposition party, PDP, said it was alarmed that authorities ignored protests by Nigerians and professional bodies, including the NMA, and allowed the foreigners into the country despite warnings that “bringing in doctors from the hotbed of the plague would expose citizens to further risks.”
The United Labour Congress (ULC) said their arrival is capable of scuttling the nation’s overall COVID-19 national response strategy.
While the goods they came with was roundly received, the arrival of the Chinese drew the ire of Nigerian doctors.
“We are not against the receipt of donor support and equipment,” the NMA said in a statement on Friday.
“We, rather, are against pulling the wool over our eyes going by the recent statement issued by the Managing Director of the Chinese donor firm operating in Nigeria that the medical personnel will be treating Chinese workers in their facilities.
“We wish also to ask when medical expatriates started coming to sovereign states to treat her nationals? What happens to the Nigerians working in those facilities?
“And it does not seem likely that the team will NOT have contact with Nigerian patients as the Presidential Task Force (PTF) would want to have us believe. CCECC has Nigerian workers among her employees too.”
The NMA charged their members to be wary of “uncertified Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from China.”
It demanded a thorough screening of the medical team, calling on the government to publish their names, designations/status, and qualifications.
Obviously, help from China is strongly viewed suspiciously and remains unwelcomed by especially Nigerian doctors even with the deep economic and trade ties both countries had built prior to the coronavirus outbreak.
But why are Nigerian doctors so upset about the Chinese doctors and are desperately eager to get rid of them?
A public analyst, Jide Ojo, said the presidency mishandled the whole communication by not giving consistent details about the invitation of the experts.
He said the doctors are angry because they were not carried along despite their efforts in containing the virus.
“Why is there no representation from the Nigeria Medical Association on the Presidential task force? The professional bodies should be involved. They will be the one to educate their members.”
The Nigerian doctors had rejected the invitation on the grounds that the government, in arriving at the decision, did not take into consideration the extant laws regulating the practice of medicine in Nigeria as enshrined in the Medical and Dental Council Act.
They complained of being subjected to the “ignominy of not being carried along in arriving at such a decision.”
A legal practitioner, Imabe Lekwot, said the legal implication is that no foreign doctor can practice within Nigerian without the approval of the council.
“Government is not being fair to our medical professionals and health workers who are operating in a very unfavorable condition with little or no safety kits. This is not a way to encourage our health workers.
“Our medical professionals have handled the pandemic well and were even commended by the WHO. China is not completely out of the woods and so, inviting them over is wrong. Government is saying it’s only for them to share their expertise, that can be done without necessarily coming over.”
The national publicity Secretary, Association of Medical Laboratories Scientists of Nigeria, Casmir Ifeanyi, described the invitation of the Chinese experts as rather a socio-political and economic move.
He said about 90 per cent of the healthcare workforce have their reservation about the visitors.
But beyond insecurities about being displaced by foreigners and not being carried along, there has been a growing anti-Chinese sentiment in the country.
Even though China has seen its worst days of the coronavirus and has been ramping up its international assistance to other countries battling the virus, the fact that the deadly disease originated from the Asian country is a stigma that has remained.
It birthed a plethora of conspiracy theories and speculations no thanks to videos on social media showing Asians eating live bats, and other exotic animals strongly linked to the origin of the virus.
Rumors have spread on social media in Nigeria and other countries that medical equipment received from China has been contaminated with the coronavirus. False information about Chinese-made medication that can cause deaths has also been widely shared on WhatsApp.
Many, including prominent Nigerians like Dino Maleye, a former senator – did not just buy the theory that 5G network developed by Chinese tech firms was aiding the spread of the disease – they became its propagators.
Professionals, along with the NMA, had also suggested a link between the arrival of Chinese doctors in Italy and an increase in cases there—even though the most probable reason by scientists was the virus reaching its natural peak in Italy.
A legal practitioner, Yinka Ogunmodimu, said “let us cast our minds back to the situation in Italy and what happened after the Chinese medical team arrived there. It was after their visit in the guise of helping out that the death toll increased.”
Recent videos on social media purportedly showing how the Chinese government are harassing Africans (many Nigerians) in their country, throwing them out of their homes and making them sleep on the streets have also been fueling the resentments.