UZOKWE'S SEARCHLIGHT

Friday, April 17, 2020
obiuzokwe@comcast.net
Harrisburg, PA, USA
NIGERIA: STIGMA OF CORONAVIRUS AFFLICTION COULD BE IMPEDING ACCURATE REPORTING AND THE FIGHT AGAINST THE CONTAGION

udging from what the whole world is going through, with respect to this coronavirus, Nigeria has so far been lucky. In fact, Africa has been lucky. Unfortunately, as I write, the United States has crossed the 26,000-mortality mark and with as much as 600,000 plus-affliction rate! But Nigeria is still counting mortality rate in the hundreds.

Not everyone, though, is buying the affliction or mortality rate statistics coming from Nigeria, and for good reason. The argument is that you can only say for sure how many people have the virus if you test a substantial number of the population. Nigeria, a country of about 200 million people, has only tested about 5,000 people. That sample size is not enough to make a conclusive declaration about affliction or mortality rate. I have even seen some in Nigeria talk about “flattening the curve” and my question is “what curve”? A curve developed with 5,000 out of 2 million people tells us nothing meaningful. Commonsense dictates that the more tests are conducted, the more the number of afflicted will be unearthed and the more meaningful any curves developed.

The biggest concern or outright fear that this writer is nursing is that with the global shortage of personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and treatment equipment like ventilators, if this contagion is allowed to fully make its way into the heartland of the nation, the contagion will be uncontrollable.

Last week, the governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano, reported that a first case has been identified in the state. He noted that the victim came into the State from Lagos. As a result, he instituted more social distancing measures and extended the number of weeks that citizens have to stay home while this lasts. They are conducting contact tracing to find out those that have been in the path of travel of the patient.

Later, news filtered out that the index case had not only made his way around several cities in the state but was trying to elude authorities. Some averred that even with obvious sign of the ailment, he was denying that he had the disease. This is the issue that occasioned this commentary! In Nigeria and Africa, as a whole, people suffer the malaise of hiding ailments. There is still this unfounded belief, in some quarters, that certain ailments are the result of retributive justice, from the gods, for something a family may have done in the past. Some call it “generational curse”. So when people get sick from certain ailments, they tend to hide it. When I heard that the index case in Anambra state was trying to deny having the ailment, even as he was seeking treatment, I felt that the fear of stigmatization might actually be the reason.

Unless the government embarks on concerted messaging to dissuade people from hiding the disease if they feel the symptoms; unless the government convinces families that it is in their best interest to report suspected cases, regardless of the relationship with the victim, some will try to help contagion carriers disguise or hide the ailment. If this happens, clusters will start developing and when incubation goes to maturity level, a surge of outbreaks will result. If it does, God help us, Nigeria will not have the capacity to handle it.

This writer is suggesting immediate and concerted radio, billboard, social media and other advertorial efforts to educate citizens about the cons of helping the afflicted hide the disease. Convince them that early identification lead to appropriate steps to prevent further spreading of the disease. The government is currently doing a good job talking about the disease and “stay at home” but has not done enough job in discouraging the hiding of the disease.

Someone surmised that one of the reasons why people may help family members or friends hide the disease is the fear of being quarantined along with the afflicted. The person noted that quarantine in Nigeria is almost like going into prison where one’s civil rights are not respected. Frankly, these fears are founded. When the “stay at home” order was first instituted, some security folks were prancing around, flogging people who flouted the injunction like animals. It was even alleged that a young man was killed in one of the localities. This should not be the case. Government should allay the fears of citizens about quarantine or isolation and assure citizens that people in quarantine will not be maltreated.

The bottom line is that if the fight against this contagion must be won, then it is important that citizens who contract the disease or their family members, feel free enough to report their cases. But if, out of fear of stigmatization or maltreatment in quarantine, they hide the cases, very soon, Nigeria will be reeling with this contagion and her hospitals are ill-equipped to handle the surge.

HERE IS STAND

Author of the books- 1. Nigeria: Contemporary Commentaries and Essays

2. Surviving in Biafra: The Story of the Nigerian Civil War

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