Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja

The Federal Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, has said the only measures Nigerians have to protect themselves against contracting COVID-19 remain the appropriate use of face masks, physical distancing, and avoiding crowds.

The Minister spoke at Monday’s briefing of Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.

He said figures show that Nigeria is sadly approaching the symbolic 1,000 number of fatalities, adding that ‘a grim reality that should be a wake up call for us.

‘Many more Nigerians today personally knew a person who succumbed to COVID-19, and so I ask that we remind ourselves today that COVID-19 is still with us and will be for a long time.

‘Until there is vaccine, the only options we have to protect ourselves, are still the non-pharmaceutical measures that are proven to be cheap and effective, such as the appropriate use of face masks, physical distancing and avoiding crowds. If we do not adhere, there could be regrets. The urgency is accentuated by the need to prepare for societal changes that will arise as the economy reopens with increased transportation, trade and human interaction, including possible reopening of air travel. We must make an effort to balance the benefits of a reactivated economy with the need to keep citizens safe, with no loss in gains so far made.’

Ehanire said Nigeria has joined the rest of the world to commemorate World Mask Week, which began on August 7th, the aim of which is to reinforce the importance of wearing masks to reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19, in the absence of a vaccine.

‘Our focus is still to reduce fatality to less than one percent, not only with preventive measures, but also with a strategy that encourages citizens to report early for treatment and for hospitals to attend to all patients in distress; most importantly to be able to provide oxygen treatment.

‘The main COVID-19 symptoms include breathlessness, which responds well to oxygen supplementation as first measure. We are turning our preferences therefore to gadgets that provide oxygen, like oxygen generators to be in many facilities, including General hospitals and larger PHCs. Solar powered aggregates, where available, will be prioritized. Federal Health Institutions with oxygen plants should activate them as a matter of priority and ensure they can deliver to their A & E Dept.

‘The other measure is the activation of Ambulance service to move patients to treatment centers. This strategy worked well in Kano and all States should prepare to set up the system. The Federal Ministry of Health will provide guidance.’

He said the National Council on Health has approved the establishment of the National Emergency Medical Service and Ambulance System (NEMSAS), an innovative system to pool the assets of public and private sector ambulances and hospitals, to raise funds to augment government seed money, and to work with States to provide emergency medical care and patient transportation to all citizens whenever and wherever it is required and irrespective of immediate or potential ability to pay.

‘It will be possible to considerably reduce COVID-19 mortality, including also maternal, child mortality, and post crash mortality with a functional Emergency Medical Service and Ambulance System that can rely on the combined assets of private and public sectors,’ the Minister said.