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We have to learn from our mistakes


Dr. Grace Ogiehor-Enoma is the head hospital administrator at New York Presbyterian Queens and executive director of the National Association of Nigerian Nurses in North America. We interviewed her as part of our #PassTheMic campaign.

Here’s some of what she had to say.

The hospital I work at has been an epicentre of COVID-19. Before this, we may have had 30 patients in the emergency room, but during the surge of COVID, we were having 150 to 200.

Thankfully, over the past two weeks, we’ve seen a big difference. Now we have around 10 patients in the emergency room and we’ve seen a decline in exposure to the virus.

Everyone has been talking about vaccines, but unfortunately it’s not as easy as people want it to be. It’s a process.

So, what I’m teaching the community is how to live with COVID-19. Because right now we don’t have a vaccine for HIV or Ebola. So, we have to learn to live with the risks.

The best way to deal with it currently is through preventive measures and infection control practices at the community level. If we are able to decrease the spread in communities and hospitals have the capacity to manage cases, then we will not be at the level we were in March and April.

We also have to look at how many patients have been successfully treated and discharged, because at the moment what people see or hear is that there is no treatment, no cure, just death. So now there is the issue of stigma around COVID. However, 80% of people who have the virus experience mind or asymptomatic symptoms. 20% will go to hospital, while 5% will end up in intensive care.

That 5% is the rate that we are very concerned about reducing. Often the people who are most at risk have conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and asthma. So, instead of waiting for a patient to come to the hospital, why not take it to the community? Let’s teach people to control and pay attention to their diabetes or high blood pressure.

Learning from other people’s mistakes

Infection anywhere is infection everywhere. But when COVID began in China, the whole world just stepped back.

Unfortunately a lack of leadership and coordination at a global level really affected us all at the beginning of this.

Infection anywhere is infection everywhere. But when COVID began in China, the whole world just stepped back. Nobody said: “Let’s go there and find out what is going on so that we can learn from it.”

So now every country is trying to learn as we go. But when there’s no global coordination, you’re only learning from your own experience and you’re going to make mistakes. Countries will find themselves in the situation we find ourselves in here in the US, with over 100,000 people dying.

It just shows that without coordination, we’re bound to fail. Some of this could have been prevented with coordinated global leadership.

COVID has to be seen as a global problem in order to bring resources together and learn from each other. For example, looking at Brazil now, why should it be going through the same surge we went through two months ago? I also keep saying to the taskforce for Nigeria: “Stop learning as you go. You need to learn from other people’s mistakes.”

Reviewing our processes

Right now we know the preparedness for the US was slow. When it came to testing, we didn’t have enough. So the focus was on the sickest of the sick. But now we have more capacity, so we are encouraging everybody to get tested. That will help us understand the virus more.

The first thing to do now is a review process of what happened. Let’s look at our emergency preparedness and the way we responded to it. So, the first would be to assess our interventions and behavior towards this pandemic. What did we do right? Which areas do we need to improve?

We have the World Health Organisation to help stop pandemics. So what was not put in place? Where was the break in communications?

Then each country needs to look at its own capacity and preparedness. Many healthcare workers around the world have died. Why? What went wrong? From my perspective we need to evaluate the way we responded. Yes, COVID-19 itself is novel. But infection control is infection control, regardless. However, what I saw was a break in protocol and standards.

So if we have to face a second wave we must look at how we responded to this initial wave. If not, we’re going to make the same mistakes.

These excerpts from the interview were edited for length and clarity.

Hear more from experts in our #PassTheMic campaign, where global health experts take over celebrities’ social media channels to share the data, facts, and science we need to know to end COVID-19. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for more.

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