Dr. Isaac Olufadewa is the executive director of the Slum and Rural Health Initiative Network in Nigeria. We interviewed Dr. Olufadewa as part of our #PassTheMic series.
Here’s some of what he had to say.
Here in Africa not only do we have the coronavirus crisis, we also have health systems that are really struggling.
Looking at some of the problems we are facing right now, one of the things that we are really battling against is misinformation and fake news. So without tackling these issues, people won’t go to receive services even if they are free. That’s why I have been really involved with providing accurate healthcare information and translating it into local languages.
Then when it comes to African governments themselves, many don’t have access to equipment, testing facilities, and personal protective equipment (PPE).
What’s needed now and what can’t be forgotten
In addition, increasing the testing capabilities of African countries is really important. In Nigeria, we currently have less than 15,000 coronavirus tests being done, even though we have a population of 200 million people. Whereas South Africa has done over 250,000 tests. So while Nigeria claims to have about 2,500 coronavirus cases, we know it is really more than that.
We also need more supplies for physicians on the front lines. Because without PPE, masks, and gloves, the hospitals will become transmitters of these diseases. The state where I live has the biggest hospital in Nigeria, and 60% of cases right now in my area are being traced to that hospital. So that is a big concern.
Another thing that is being affected during this time of disruption is the chain of other healthcare services.
Another thing that is being affected during this time of disruption is the chain of other healthcare services. For example, we don’t have HIV services running during this lockdown period. I also worry about reproductive health, routine child vaccinations, and healthcare services for women.
We really need to ensure that these services are up and running. Otherwise we will probably lose more people as a result of neglecting these than from the coronavirus crisis itself.
Countries cannot fight this alone
I believe a coordinated response is really needed right now. Countries cannot be left alone to fight this. If Nigeria is left alone to fight this, I don’t think we stand a chance. That’s the truth of the situation.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control has already highlighted the lack of PPE, bed space, and isolation centres we face. We know that most of these cost money, so there is definitely a need for economic relief or some kind of stimulus package for countries.
It’s also very hard for slum communities in Nigeria and other parts of Africa to follow the physical distancing being recommended. We cannot really talk about what hygiene and sanitation look like when people don’t even have running water. How can we protect street children begging? What about the level of illiteracy in Nigeria?
I just can’t really imagine the virus getting to the slums, which are really crammed, overcrowded places. That worries me.
We as individuals need to hold the government accountable for their plans going forward.
So we as individuals need to hold the government accountable for their plans going forward. Unfortunately, the government has already started relaxing the lockdowns in Nigeria, because people were pressuring them.
There’s also a need for us to ask where the money that’s being donated to fight COVID-19 is being spent. For example, we need to be saying: “We know that you received $24 million from the World Health Organisation, or this amount from a philanthropist, so how have you spent this money?”
We need action, not just talk
Overall, I would say I’m optimistic about the level of concern for Africa. I recently signed an open letter to the United Nations calling for a global equity task force. I’ve also seen messages from other countries, acknowledging our weak healthcare systems and the need to do something about them.
I’m learning that people want to tackle this problem and that gives me some level of hope.
I’ve also been reading research articles and one which really resonated with me said: “Let’s not repeat the mistakes we made during the HIV/AIDS pandemic.” In sub-Saharan Africa, when the rest of the world has moved on, they are still battling with HIV/AIDS. So, I’m learning that people want to tackle this problem and that gives me some level of hope.
However, on the other hand, I’ve been hearing a lot of talk, but what has been done? We will be hearing about the creation of the global equity task force to ensure that there is equitable access to healthcare during COVID-19, but what has been done to put this in place?
We definitely need to see action, not just talk.
These excerpts from the interview were edited for length and clarity.
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