By Jonathan Ugbal
Following weeks of a media face-off between the federal government and the Cross River state government, a seven-man team from the federal ministry of health has arrived Calabar, the state’s capital for an assessment of the level of preparedness as the world battles the SARS – CoV-2 pandemic.
Cross River and Kogi states are currently the only subnational territories within Nigeria that are yet to record a confirmed case of the Coronavirus Disease.
And, following reports that the head of the country’s center for disease control, NCDC, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu had on April 16, 2020, said the viral respiratory infection will spread to all states in Nigeria, the Cross River state government in what seemed a swipe said the NCDC stood for “Nigerian Center for Disease Control and not Nigerian Center for Disease Spread.”
The health commissioner, Dr. Betta Edu who made that statement repeatedly at different interviews, also said the visiting team from the Federal Government which is supposed to investigate the zero case situation would be quarantined for 14 days before they would be allowed to do any work.
This led to a standstill.
However, weeks after, an agreement was reached and a team led by Dr. Omobonlanle Olowu touched down at the Margaret Ekpo international airport in Calabar on Monday morning and proceeded to the state ministry of health headquarters where Dr. Edu outlined steps taken so far to ensure no case is recorded in the state.
Edu said the state swung into action in January 2020 by setting up the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) after wide consultations.
Edu who said the state was not at war with the federal government or the NCDC, lamented the poor support received by the state so far as it had only gotten 200 gloves, a few dozen N-95 face masks, four bodybags and boots asides the 50 test kits which she had earlier said were grossly inadequate.
She appealed for support from the federal government in certain areas including the; “full implementation of incident action plan; manning of local and international borders and the approval to purchase personal protective equipment from the Cross River garment factory as part of the post COVID-19 economic stimulus plan.”
Also, she sought for the federal government to “set up a vaccine research manufacturing factory in Calabar; support training of workers; setting up a test center at the Dr. Lawrence Henshaw memorial hospital; scaling up support to the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital isolation center and other holding facilities; support surveillance and improve on the working relationship with the state.”
The delegation which included Pharmacist Darlington Ugwu (NCDC), Dr. Nwachukwu William (NCDC – Surveillance), Dr. Shekarau Emmanuel (FMOH – Epidemiologist), Dr. Omokore Oluseyi Amos (FMOH family physician), Dr. UtibeAbasi Urua of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency and Dr. Okpikpi Okpaks (FMOH – hospital services) took turns to respond to the concerns shared by Dr. Edu.
Members of the fact finding team who spoke expressed the fears before their arrival and warnings that they would be quarantined for fourteen days or turned back but were shocked at the hospitality displayed by the state.
For Dr. Williams, Cross River had done well in the areas of prevention, sensitization and case detection and pledged that the NCDC will work with the state continuously. However, he kept mute on why the NCDC asked a staff sent to the state and had spent about two months to leave immediately on Wednesday, May 13, 2020.
For Dr. Urua, the NPHCDA will support the primary health care system in the area of training staff.
And, Dr. Omobolanle on her part said that; “Before the end of the month, I am sure you will get a feedback. We were not hearing anything from Cross River. Now that we are here, we have heard.”
She said before now, the question on the mind of the presidential task force on COVID-19 was, “what is happening in Kogi and Cross River States.”
She explained that, “the fear was are we going to have a reservoir of cases in these states,” hence the need for their visit to “see where the gaps are and how we will fill them.”
Omobonlanle who said the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and other states had gone into community transmission, also commended the state for the proactive measures taken so far.
The team is expected to visit the garment factory; Calabar Pharmaceutical company; Dr. Lawrence Henshaw memorial infectious disease hospital; General Hospital, Calabar; University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH); the training center for 400 health workers at UCTH; the Isolation center at the Tinapa Premier Business and Leisure resort as well as the palace of the Obong of Calabar.
They are expected to visit the bridge linking Cross River and Akwa Ibom states as well as Uyo, the Akwa Ibom state capital and will depart on Wednesday, according to the itinerary by the rapid response team.
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