Exactly one year ago today, Suleiman Achimugu became the first Nigerian to die from COVID-19. About 12 months later, the virus has claimed over 2,000 lives in Africa’s most populous country.
Nigeria, like most African countries, has not suffered from the worst effect of the pandemic, unlike its European and American counterparts.
The 2,030 deaths so far in Nigeria as of Tuesday morning is small when compared to the over 2.7 million fatalities worldwide or the over 555,000 lives lost already in the U.S.
Nigeria is also the country with the least death toll among the top five Africa countries affected by COVID-19.
While Nigeria’s success in managing the disease reflects in the country’s relatively low death tally and high recovery rate, the government has made some blunders and faced some challenges in managing the virus.
PREMIUM TIMES highlighted five of those challenges when the country marked one year of COVID-19 outbreak on February 27.
About 24 days after Nigeria’s index case of coronavirus, an Italian national, was confirmed on February 27, 2020, the West African country recorded its first fatality from the virus.
The victim, a former Managing Director of the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), Mr Achimugu, died on March 23 after showing symptoms of the virus following his return to the country from the United Kingdom, his family said.
The death which was reported widely on local media sparked fears resulting in panic buying of cleaning products and eventually the lockdown of Abuja and Lagos a week later on March 30, for 14 days initially.
According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the victim had underlying medical conditions – multiple myeloma and diabetes – and was undergoing chemotherapy before returning to Nigeria.
Thus far, Nigeria has recorded 161, 737 infections resulting in over 2,030 deaths.
The victims have included health workers, politicians, businessmen, public workers and others.
On April 17, The Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Abba Kyari, died at 69, becoming the most popular COVID-19 fatality in West Africa as of then.
His burial the following day at the military cemetery in Gudu in Abuja drew immediate backlash from Nigerians because senior government officials who attended the event did not adhere to health advisories and safety protocols against COVID-19.
Other prominent people who died from the disease include Abiola Ajimobi, a two-term governor in Nigeria’s southwestern Oyo State who died from underlying health conditions after contracting coronavirus. He passed away in Lagos at the age of 70 on June 25.
The Ondo State commissioner for health, Wahab Adegbenro, died on July 2 at the state’s infectious disease hospital.
Many Nigerians have questioned the transparency in NCDC’s reporting of COVID-19 death victims. They say many fatalities have remained unannounced beyond the daily statistics on the NCDC dashboard.
However, it is more than just numbers on the NCDC dashboard for the families of the deceased. For them, life, as it were, will never be the same. The crude reality has been a mix of tears and unforgettable memories of their lost ones.
PREMIUM TIMES understands that putting faces to those who died from COVID-19 would raise the consciousness of everyone that the daily cases and fatalities are more than mere statistics.
Last July, we started a series – Beyond Numbers – aimed at profiling, as many as possible, Nigerians who died from coronavirus complications.
In the maiden part of the series, prominent Nigerians killed by the disease were profiled.
In the second part, Nigerians who died helping other countries fight the virus were remembered. They were first responders and medical staff – who worked diligently and selflessly to stem the tide of the infection and care for the sick.
Meanwhile, NCDC recent data suggests that Africa’s most populous nation may be past the worst phase of the virus as daily infections and deaths declined in recent weeks.
Nigeria on Sunday recorded no new death from COVID-19, the fourth day in the past one week that nobody died from the disease.
Also, in continuation of a steady run of low infection figures, the country recorded the lowest daily infections in five months with 86 new cases recorded on Sunday.
Health experts, however, warned it might be too early to celebrate as there are indications of under-reporting of cases and deaths due to an acute lack of testing.
Authorities on Monday announced that about 122,410 Nigerians have received jabs of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that were shipped to the country earlier this month by the Vaccines Global Access facility – COVAX.
Nigeria is also expecting 41 million doses through the African Union.
The west African nation aims to vaccinate approximately 109 million people against the COVID-19 virus over a period of two years.
Only eligible population from 18 years and above, including pregnant women, will be vaccinated.
To achieve this, authorities said the vaccine roll-out will be in phases, starting with health workers, frontline workers, COVID-19 rapid response team, laboratory attendants, police officers, petrol station workers and strategic leaders.
The COVAX arrangement also recommends that countries put the elderly and those with co-morbidities – underlying health conditions such as cancer and diabetes – at the front of the queue.
Also, apart from those being prioritised, other interested Nigerians are registering in the portal and getting vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the news that there were side effects among a few people receiving the Oxford jabs in other countries may escalate the already existing skepticism about the vaccines.
However, Faisal Shuaib, the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), while speaking at the weekly briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 Monday said Nigeria has not recorded any serious adverse reaction following the administration of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines.
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