By Prof. Usman Yusuf
There is a disaster currently unfolding in Kano with rising death rates particularly among the elderly that is not getting the national attention it deserves.
While some may explain this increasing death rates to the lack of medical care for the chronically ill due to the lockdown, (which in any case is poorly observed and enforced in Kano), we should not forget that these same preexisting medical conditions make the elderly more vulnerable to infection and death by Covid-19.
Kano, the most populous city in Nigeria will if urgent measures not taken now, become the epicenter of Covid-19 pandemic in the African continent.
I have always believed that based on the epidemiology of the virus, the population dynamics, negative socioeconomic factors, the state of healthcare and infrastructure in the city, Kano alone will have more positive cases than the whole country put together. But, because we were not testing, we did not find. We are now seeing more cases because the test center in Kano started working just two weeks ago.
On Monday April 20th, 2020, there was a news scroll on National Television Authority (NTA) captioned “100 people died in Kano from a strange illness”. Really?, what illness can be stranger than Covid-19 at this moment in our history, I asked?
Print and social media are also replete with hysterical headlines about the rising fatalities in the city.
There are first hand reports from many cemeteries in the city of steadily increasing burials, which the state government initially denied but later said it would investigate.
Doctors in the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E) of the major teaching hospital in the city report that recently, almost 60% of all A&E visits are among adults with symptomatic respiratory infections with increasing fatality in those above 50 years of age.
To worsen things, most of the hospitals in the state are currently only partially functioning due to fear and uncertainty among healthcare workers who know very well that the hospitals can not cope with sick Covid-19 patients that will soon be coming.
The tragedy is that healthcare workers who are in the frontline and exposed daily to the mortal danger of this virus are not provided with any form of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
About two months ago, Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH) lost two brilliant Doctors in the prime of their lives and careers to Lassa Fever after operating on an infected pregnant patient.
This is the reason that the AKTH Chapter of the Association of Resident Doctors issued a statement on 20th April 2020 putting the hospital authorities on notice that they will stop seeing patients if they are not provided with adequate PPEs.
These Doctors are right in their demands which are enshrined and protected by the WHO rights of healthcare workers taking care of patients in any pandemic.
Doctors took an oath to protect and preserve lives not to commit suicide which is what knowingly seeing a Covid-19 patient without PPE will be.
Nigerians as a people should salute, speak up for, and protect our healthcare workers. These selfless men and women, some of the best among us are in the frontline all across the nation putting their lives on the line for us in this existential battle against this unseen enemy .
Sadly, the Kano State’s Task Force on Covid-19 is in disarray since several of its key members went into quarantine after testing positive for the virus, this vacuum in leadership has resulted in the very slow response and testing by the State’s Rapid Response team resulting in increasing fatality particularly among the elderly.
It is the socioeconomic consequences of this pandemic that scares me more than the virus itself. How well it is handled now will determine this outcome.
Clearly, Kano city is in serious trouble and the political leadership is in dire need of help from the Federal government, it’s citizens and the whole nation.
A wise man once said “When disaster strikes, it tears the curtain away from the festering problems that we have beneath them,”
I call on the Federal government to act now with all sense of urgency by mobilizing resources to Kano to achieve the following remedies before it is too late.
(a) Humane but strict enforcement of Social Distancing measures
(b) Provision of foodstuffs and palliatives to enable people to stay at home
(c) Aggressive case finding by increasing testing and isolating those found positive.
(d) Provision of adequate PPEs to healthcare workers.
(e) Provision of adequate Drugs & Consumables to hospitals.
(f) Provision of more hospital & ICU bed spaces.
(g) Provision of Ventilators to hospitals.
(h) Employment of more healthcare workers like Nurses and Community Health Extension Workers (CHEWS) to assist in contact tracing.
(I) Aggressive public education.
(j) All deaths should be reported and swabs taken for Covid-19 before burials.
(k) Active engagement of Traditional, Religious and community leaders.
We all have a duty to pull together and look out for each other at this trying time.
Yusuf is a Professor of Haematology-Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation