INTERVIEW: COVID-19: What we discussed with Buhari – SGF Mustapha

President Muhammadu Buhari receives briefing from Presidential Task Force on COVID-19
President Muhammadu Buhari receives briefing from Presidential Task Force on COVID-19

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, on Sunday, led members of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 to a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari.

After the meeting which held at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Mr Mustapha, who is the PTF chairman, addressed journalists on what was discussed at the meeting.

Excerpts:

SGF: This is part of a routine exercise. I think this is about the third time that we have had cause to submit an interim report to him on our activities as task force and also to update him on preparation for the other phases of engagement. And we have supplied him with all the materials that is required to look at the issues. Because, we are in for the long hurl, this is not a short distance race, it’s a marathon and we have to keep everything in perspective. But remember on the 27th of April, he addressed the nation and put in place the easing down of the lockdown effective from the 4th of May. From the 4th of May to date is about 13 days, tomorrow we should expect new processes to be put in place. But we have to give him all the material details will help us in preparing for the future. So that is why we are here.

Q: Can the PTF say the action has achieved its purpose.?

SGF: Yes. We had three objectives and I can say to a large extent we have achieved these objectives. We might not be there totally but I am confident that looking at the strategies that we are putting in place, going forward we will strengthen those objectives that we have substantially achieved which are purpose driven in terms of dealing with COVID-19 and like I said it is not a 100-metre race, it is a marathon. So at every point in time you put in place the strategy and move forward and that is what we are doing. I can assure that what proposals we have brought today for Mr President’s consideration, I think holistically, it will put us in a better frame to deal with the future.

Q: PTF repeatedly expressed worry over the behaviour of Nigerians, what is the situation now?

SGF: That is one of the set backs that I can say. There was a poll that was conducted over the last two weeks covering all facets of segments and demography of people, 99 per cent of Nigerians said they are aware of COVID-19, they have listened to publicity materials, jingles and the information that has been put out there by the ministry of information and the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control. But different percentages that have different perspective, some 26 per cent said that they are immune, with that kind of a mindset, when someone said he is immune, it means that he will not use the face mask he will not observe social distancing, he will not stay at home when he is supposed to stay at home. And different percentages have ascribed different levels of understanding of what COVID-19 is. But the most important thing is for us to drive home, community ownership, let the community understand that there is a COVID-19 that is deadly, that can ravage their health and their wealth and the most important thing for them to do is for them to take personal responsibility in dealing with it. How do they take responsibility? All of them should be overseers of their communities, watch out for people who have symptoms and urged them to report at the nearest health facility and get tested and if they are confirmed positive, their contacts can be traced and they will be taken into care, that is the most important thing to do. COVID-19 is not going to go away in the next one or two months, whoever tells you that is not being realistic. No vaccine is in the horizon, we are talking about 18 months to two years before vaccines would be confirmed for human use as far as COVID-19. And unless we get there, it means is that it will remain.

It might have cycles, after the first cycle of pandemic, they might be a relief, there can be a resurgence and that is evidenced all over the world. It has happened before as is the nature of infections. So, I believe that what we are going to do now as a taskforce is to come down to the level of having the communities take ownership of the response. We have developed a national response which has been cascaded to the states but the communities must plug into the national response. Where we have primary health care centres all over the country, they can be used as stations of reporting of surveillance within a particular community, of tracing, of tracking so that we can take out those that we suspect have exhibited symptoms or have come in contact with people who have exhibited symptoms for testing and isolation. That way you plug them out of the community and reduce the risk of transmission. That is basically what we are working on

We have been preaching that in the last one week. All our press conferences, we emphasised that there must be a change and there must be a paradigm shift to community responsibility because we believe we have gotten to the stage of community transmission and the only way you can deal with community transmission is when you give the responsibility back to the community, not in terms of treating people, no. In terms of being conscious and aware of the fact that this thing is in our community and we have the collective resolve to ensure that we protect our people, particularly the aged, the sick, the ones that have underlying health conditions that are easily susceptible to the fatalities of COVID-19. And that is why as a task force we have stood very strong against congregations. Congregations are the easiest places where you can get infected in terms of transmission and that is why we try as much as possible to discourage congregations in all that we do. Because, the aged, the sick and the vulnerable will turn up in congregations and once they get infected it becomes another ball game all together. And so the zeal now and the drive will be geared towards community ownership.

Q: What did the president tell you?

SGF: Well, the president expressed his satisfaction that in spite of the difficulties and the fact that as a nation, we lack the capable infrastructure looking at what is happening to the developed world, where countries that have traditionally established health institutions with all the palliatives, with all the privileges, with all the schemes that guide its people have crumbled as a result of COVID-19, we are still standing and doing our best under the circumstances to ensure that we provide the necessary direction. So he expressed his satisfaction with the PTF, the minister of health and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, which are integral part of the taskforce and all the multi-sectoral ministries that are involved in this work – the armed forces, the police, the kind of cooperation we have received from them, without them we wouldn’t have recorded the modest successes that we have achieved. So he expressed his appreciation (to those) that have contributed to where we are today.

Our numbers are going up but you have to consider that our mortality too is not as drastic as it’s being expected.

Q: Have you received the Madagascan remedy?

SGF: I understand it’s been brought by…I will take delivery probably tomorrow, Monday. The president has already said it will be scientifically dealt with, it is only after that that he can allow it to be tested. But that has been our position that whatever comes in, whatever cure, whatever solution that is being provided must be subjected to a process of validation. The minister of health has institutions under his ministry that are charged statutorily with the processes of validation. Anything that we will receive, anything that is locally developed must go through the processes of validation before we will allow it.



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