A virtual colloquium aimed at debating divergent opinions on measures adopted by relevant authorities to curb the spread of coronavirus in Nigeria is starting today by 10:00 a.m.
Organized by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), in collaboration with the Nigerian Defence Academy and PREMIUM TIMES, the virtual event promises to provide answers to several questions surrounding the methods and techniques as well as the national strategy against the coronavirus pandemic.
Some of these contentious issues and many more that would be ventilated and interrogated at the colloquium would help to broaden our knowledge while imparting useful advice that would equip individuals with relevant skills to navigate the new normal, organizers said.
Expected at the virtual colloquium, according to JAMB spokesperson, Fabian Benjamin, are the representatives of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19; the Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive of the National Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI); and the Director-General, National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD).
Other speakers lined up for the colloquium are the Deputy Managing Director and Professor of Chemistry, Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) Consultancy Services and the Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Participants will have an opportunity to ask critical questions on various government policies in the fight against COVID-19.
PREMIUM TIMES will bring you live updates of this event holding online from 10a.m.
The event will also be streamed live on our Facebook page.
10:05 a.m. – Event Commences Proper
“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to the virtual colloquium on divergent opinions from professionals on some of the pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical measures being adopted by relevant authorities to curb the spread of the virus”, Fabian Benjamin, JAMB spokesperson and the anchor of the event said.
After the recitation of the first stanza of the national anthem, Mr Benjamin took turn to introduce dignitaries both present at the JAMB head office in Abuja and those joining virtually.
Is-haq Oloyede, the JAMB registrar, steps up to give an opening remark. He thanks everybody present for the event. He said there has been some contentious issues on measures been used in the fight against coronavirus. He said some of these measures have left many Nigerians confused on which to adopt.
He said one of the contentious issues is the use of body disinfectants.
“Disinfectant booths have become a common sight in public buildings, whereby chemical is sprayed or showered on human skin each time one passes through the booth. The use of body disinfectant booths and tunnels have been supported, as there have vociferous arguments against them by different professional individuals and bodies,” he said.
“Recently, while the Federal Ministry of Education has persuaded educational institutions to install body disinfectant tunnels as Government looks at the possibility of the full resumption of schools, the Ministry of Aviation, following the resumption of flights, has dissuaded the use of the same disinfectant tunnels at the nation’s airports.”
That is one controversy we want to resolve, he said.
“The second issue is that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 40-60 seconds of handwashing for the effectiveness of cleaning while the NCDC has instead recommended 20 seconds of handwashing.
“Some professionals have also argued that handwashing with soap alone is not completely effective without the additional use of alcohol-based sanitizers, while some experts have argued that one can serve in place of the other”, organizers said.
“Meanwhile, what is the effect of too much sanitizer (another chemical) on the hand? As we are advised to use this chemical frequently. What is the effect of face/nose masks on our breathing? Especially for those with respiratory issues or those who are advanced in age”.
He said some argue that it is dangerous to use hand sanitizers too much.
The JAMB chief said there are contentions over the use of face masks and face screens.
He said all these are some of the contentious issues to be addressed during the colloquium.
Mr Oloyede said the colloquium is organised by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) in collaboration with the Nigerian Defence Academy and PREMIUM TIMES Newspaper.
Francis Egbokhare, president of the Nigerian Academy of Letters (NAL) takes the stage. He is a co-moderator of the event. He said it important to make clear the science in the fight against the virus.
Mr Egbokare is a professor of Linguistics at the University of Ibadan. Until his election as President of NAL, Egbokhare was Vice President of NAL of the academy.
Also speaking, president of the Nigerian Academy of science, Sunday Bwala said the confusion on measures been adopted in the fight against the contagion might hamper the country’s national strategy and response to the disease.
“We should follow the science,” said Mr Bwala.
He said the confusion on the national response to COVID-19 was brought to fore when two states in Nigeria was in denial of the statistics and strategies used by NCDC, Nigeria’s infectious disease outfit.
The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is supposed to coordinate the national response to epidemics and pandemics. But the infectious disease outfit has not been able to work in sync with state authorities.
Nigeria reported its index case of the contagion in an Italian traveler in late February.
Since then, the disease has spread across the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), infecting over 46, 000 people leading to the death of about 950, according to NCDC data.
States such as Cross Rivers and Kogi have continued to dispute NCDC statistics on COVID-19 as state and federal officials trade mutual suspicion.
Experts say the situation has put some of the measure being adopted in several regions of the country to question.
Obi Adigwe, the director-general of the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD), makes a virtual presentation.
He starts by sharing a story about a protracted debate about the health benefits of coffee and alcohol.
“When I was doing my PHD, they said alcohol was good for the health but when I finished they said only two shots should be taken. This will give you an idea about how scientific measures over certain issues evolve over time and this can be seen in measures adopted against coronavirus,” he said.
He lauded the colloquium saying it is the first time Nigeria will be sitting to discuss its own peculiar measures used in the fight against coronavirus.
On the debate over the use of hand-sanitizers, he explained how NIPRD developed locally manufactured hand-sanitizers in the wake of the outbreak in Nigeria.
He said the institute developed a framework and formula for local manufacturers of hand sanitizers.
In mid-March, NIPRD developed a pilot hand sanitizer as part of its preparedness to address shortages in supply chain disruptions due to the COVID-19 virus.
Mr Adigwe said the agency used international best practices to checkmate the quality of hand sanitizers in circulation.
Aliyu Sani, coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, makes a presentation.
Mr Sani, a former director of Nigeria’s Agency for the Control of Aids (NACA), recounts how COVID-19 started spreading in Nigeria.
He said the PTF was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari on March 17 to coordinate the national response in the fight against the contagion.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, who inaugurated the Task Force said its composition was also necessitated by monitoring of developments around the world on the outbreak of the contagion.
“We started the (PTF) by meeting every day but over time, we started meeting once or twice a day,” Mr Sani said.
He said on March 23, the national airports were closed and on March 30, Abuja, Lagos, and Ogun were locked initially and in mid-may, the easing of the lockdown started.
He said it is not just lives that have been affected by the pandemic but also on livelihoods. The impact goes beyond the numbers and statistics, he said.
On the dispute between state and national strategies, Mr Aliyu said the NCDC does not exist in the state. “The entire response in the state are coordinated by the state government. The NCDC only sends a small team to the state from time to time, especially when there are issues”.
He said young people are almost immune to COVID-19, but the challenge is that they will be spreading the virus. “If you are young and you have COVID-19, you could be fine but the challenge is how do you know you have it and restrain the spread”.
Mr Aliyu said one of the major challenges is that the awareness is still low on various measures adopted for preventing and checking COVID-19.
He said the numbers are coming down gradually. Nigeria on Monday recorded 290 new coronavirus infections, the second lowest daily figure since June 8. Monday’s figure is slightly higher than the 288 daily cases recorded exactly one week ago.
Nigeria has continued to record cases below 500 for the past two weeks, a sign that the country’s epidemiological curve is heading downwards.
The official said we are currently in phase 2 of reopening, noting that getting to phase 3 might take a while due to disparities in awareness and measures.
He reiterated that two meters is the national recommendation for social distancing.
On the debate about hand sanitizers, he said soap and water are far better than using hand sanitizers.
On the use of facemasks, he said using face masks is the best practice regardless of the contentions.
On walk-through disinfectants, he said the disinfection box, chamber or tunnel is not so effective in curbing the spread of Covid-19.
Mr Aliyu said the duration of between 20 and 30 seconds would not be enough to disinfect effectively.
11: 45 A.M. — Questions
Responding to a question by a lecturer from IBB University on the hazardous components of chemical used in fumigation and disinfection, Mr Aliyu said common sanitation is better than using those chemicals.
“Instead of using these spray chemicals that its components are generating debates on its effect on human health, it’s better and safer we use common sanitary products recommended by the WHO,” he said.
Mohammed Yaya from Othman Danfodio University asked what would happen with laboratories used for testing during the post-COVID-19 era. Mr Aliyu said moving forward the labs will be used for screening tuberculosis among other viral infections.
Mr Egbokhare, president of the Nigerian Academy of Letters and co-moderator of the event, takes the stage again. He invites the executive director, National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), Mohammed Haruna, to make a presentation.
Mohammed Haruna, head of NASENI makes a presentation:
Mr Haruna starts by explaining why the adoption of disinfection tunnels for preventing COVID-19 is necessary.
He said the measure was first started in Wuhan, China, the birthplace of the virus.
He said it was on May 15 when the WHO issued a guideline that the debate and doubts on disinfectant booths started. The official said the WHO guideline did not say that the use of disinfectant booths was ineffective, but it was more concerned with the toxicity of chemicals used.
“The NCDC does not allow the spraying of humans. It’s wrong to discard the use of disinfection completely. Nothing has been done in the fight against the disease that has not come without an argument because the disease is novel,” the official said.
He said there are no measures that have been generally accepted. “In the US, they said it’s not necessary to wear masks, later they said its only medical face masks should be used. So it is not a surprise when people started countering the use of disinfectant booths,” he said.
He said it is very important to use disinfection booths because the tunnels are multi-purposeful; they check temperature as well as disinfect.
The official said the use of disinfectant and fumigation is one of the main measures used in flattening the curve in China.
China managed to contain the spread of the virus through rapid testing, fumigation of entire streets, adherence to safety guidelines and restrictions that locked down hundreds of millions of residents for 11 weeks from mid-February to early April when the total lockdown was lifted.
Ending his presentation, Mr Haruna said disinfection tunnels do not cure the disease but they are very useful in preventing the disease. “Prevention is better than cure,” he said.
NASENI was established in 1992 by the federal government.
Mustapha Abba from Bauchi queried why the testing capacity is still very low. He said even when samples are taken, it takes a longer time for results to come out.
Ezekiel from Niger Delta University spoke against the use of disinfectant tunnels. He said such chemicals used have not yet been studied for i
their impact on human health.
Responding, the president of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Sunday Bwala, who is also a co-moderator of the event said even if there are lapses in the national responses, it behoves on “us as Nigerians to take precaution seriously and make personal decisions on how to protect our selves from getting infected”.
Mr Egbokhare, the co-moderator, said it is necessary to follow the science in the fight against the disease.
He stressed the need to strengthen research.
The moderator said Nigeria has not done enough in awareness creation, and in disseminating the right information about the virus.
“What has spread more is fear, misinformation, and anxiety. Until we strengthen the appropriate communication channels, it will be difficult to follow the science,” he said.
In a closing remark, Yusuf Lawal, Director Colloquium Planning Committee, thanked all participants of the virtual colloquium.
Mr Benjamin, the JAMB spokesperson, urged participants to stand for the national anthem.
The virtual colloquium ends at 12: 59 p.m.