COVID -19 patients who are on the run and fail to submit themselves for isolation are capable of truncating Nigeria’s efforts to curtail the spread of the deadly virus, medical experts have said.
As of May 10, there are 4,399 coronavirus cases in the country, with 778 discharged and 143 dead.
Several reports from across the country reveal how positive COVID-19 patients avoid being treated at the designated isolation centres and how some patients break out from the centres after being admitted.
In Lagos, for instance, many of the patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 are not at the isolation centres because they are on the run, according to Akin Abayomi, the Commissioner for Health.
Laz Ude Eze, a public health physician, said such an act poses a lot of health implications to the patients themselves and the larger society.
“The implication of the escape of persons with confirmed Covid-19 is that they will transmit the virus to others if they mix with the general public. It may further increase the spread of the virus and sabotage the efforts to control it,” Mr Eze said.
Patients On The Run
Last Friday, Mr Abayomi said that many individuals who had tested positive for COVID-19 in the state are fleeing their residence and not submitting themselves for treatment.
Despite that the state had 1,037 active cases as of Friday, only 262 beds were occupied out of the 569 bed-capacity in the state. That meant almost 800 COVID-19 positive patients were not at the isolation facilities, possibly mixing with other residents of the state where safety measures are being violated routinely.
While some patients are yet to be admitted into the facilities, the commissioner said most patients are on the run and desert their homes to avoid being admitted.
“There is also a situation that we experience, when we test people, sometimes they find it difficult to find them. The ambulances will go into community, people will flee their homes, and they make it difficult for us to find them,” Mr Abayomi said.
The percentage of the admitted patients as of Friday is about 26 per cent of the total active cases.
The state also recorded 176 new cases on Friday, an increase to the number of active cases.
On Sunday, 81 new cases were recorded to bring the state’s total to 1,845.
The commissioner said there is no time for health officials to hunt the people who are on the run as positive patients are expected to make themselves available in their own interest.
Giving the possible reason why patients flee their homes, shut their doors and refuse to be admitted, Mr Abayomi said it could be the fear of the state of the isolation centres.
“Our isolation facilities really comfortable, it is not like the Ebola days, we have made a lot of improvements, ” Mr Abayomi said.
“If you look at the testimonies of people that were discharged, you will see that the food is good, the attention is good, the wards are clean.”
The commissioner added that the clinic staff are very professional and he has a lot of confidence in the expertise of the medical experts.
He said people have nothing to worry about and if they test positive, they should not run away from the facilities so that fatalities from COVID-19 will reduce.
‘Fear of stigmatisation’
John Oghenehero, a medical officer and general practitioner, told PREMIUM TIMES that the fear of stigmatisation and the fear of the unknown are part of the reasons people do not want be admitted into the isolation centres.
“A lot of people still do not understand how the virus is managed hence they don’t want to be stigmatised.
“It is common knowledge that there is currently no cure or vaccine. So people tend to be afraid or have the feeling that nothing can be done for them in these isolation centers realistically. So they may feel there is no need to go to the hospital,” Mr Oghenehero said.
The medical practitioner said the general belief that COVID-19 corpses are disposed by the government is another factor, because many want to be buried according to their cultural rites should they succumb to the illness.
“There are so many false news going round including how people are cared for in the isolation centers, the fatality of the disease and even how COVID-19 does not exist. So many misinformation out there and there are a few people who are gullible enough to believe some of these misinformation,” Mr Oghenehero said.
He added that there are people who believe only in alternative and traditional medicine and such people will never go to a hospital, even when they test positive.
Adeolu Olusodo, a medical expert and Founder of Atayese Health Network, said patients are defaulting from the treatment because they do not believe COVID-19 is real.
“A lot of have the feeling that it is malaria and typhoid they are treating and calling it COVID-19. A lot of people feel the virus is not real, hence, they are not willing to submit themselves for 14 days or more for treatment.
“Government needs to do something, they can show videos of people in critical conditions, seeing is believing, when they see pictorial evidence, they will believe,” he said.
Mr Olusodo said another cause for this act is the failure of the government in having a solid database for Nigerians which makes tracking people extremely difficult.
“Even at the point of submitting samples for test, a lot of people will put wrong details, and since there is no centralised database it is easy for people to put fake addresses.
“If there is a centralised database for citizens, there is no need among people for their phone numbers or where they live, you can only take extra step to confirm. We are suffering from the lack of things the government should have done years back,” he said.
Mr Olusodo said if people believe that the virus is real and killing, they will have a different attitude.
Implications of Fleeing
Mr Eze, the physician, said Nigeria would record more transmission of the COVID-19 infection if more people continue to flee from being admitted.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for people to be escaping and endangering the lives of their families and others. Stopping Covid-19 spread involves all of us,” he said.
For Mr Olusudo, the major implication of people defaulting from treatment is that they will keep spreading the virus.
“Basically, if they are running away, they are leaving where they are to possibly where the virus has not yet reached. That way, they keep spreading the virus.”
He said the act is an endangerment to their own lives because they stand the risk of fatality, and also endangers the larger society.
“By not being managed or taking treatment for the virus, you are endangering your life because by the time the complications of the infection comes up, it may be too Late to seek for medical attention and it will lead to increase in fatality.
“A lot of deaths going on are as a result of COVID-19 but they are not being captured under COVID-19.”
Most people assume their relatives died from underlying medical conditions, not knowing that it might be the virus that has activated that medical condition that led to the death of the person, he said.
A Call To Action
Mr Olusudo said the situation is a call to action as the government and all stakeholders must make concerted efforts to curbing the menace.
He said sensitisation on COVID-19 should be heightened across all spheres, down to the grassroots.
“The government should also show pictures videos of people in critical conditions, they say it is human right violations but they can blur people’s faces. Many Nigerians need this level of evidence for them to believe what we are fighting.”
Buttressing the importance of sensitisation, Mr Eze said many people are on the run simply because of lack of adequate knowledge about the infection.
“Sometimes, they may not have symptoms and don’t understand why they should be taken to isolation or treatment centre. They should be educated and their fears allayed,” he said.