As the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic commenced at both national and sub-national levels in Nigeria, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) rose up to the challenges of preparedness and response to COVID-19.
Few days after the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on March 20, the Minister of the FCT, Muhammad Musa Bello, promptly inaugurated a Ministerial Advisory Committee of health experts. The Emergency Operation Center (EOC) was also swiftly activated and made ready for use by the Emergency Response Team. Upon inauguration, the members of the response team were charged to bring their experiences and professionalism in attending to the confirmed cases and diligently tracking all suspects until the FCT is declared free of the pandemic.
The response team consisted of nine major Pillars which include; Infection Prevention and Control, Epidemiology, Surveillance and Point of Entry, Laboratory, Logistics, Research, Risk Communication and Social Mobilisation, Case Management, Health and Safety. Each of these pillars is headed by a Pillar Lead, each pillar addresses specific areas under a central Coordinating Committee that supervises the overall activities of the team.
The Acting Secretary of the Health and Human Services Secretariat (HHSS), Dr. Mohammed Kawu said in a recent media chat that the team has been working assiduously with the support of the FCT minister, who according to him, has been providing political leadership and squeezing out resources to facilitate the response which has yielded positive outcomes.
In his own words, “We had to work day in, day out to ensure that the right things were done in line with the guidelines stipulated in the Incident Action Plan (IAP). Drugs were bought, incinerators were fixed, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) was given to all health workers, patients were fetched promptly, bogus allowances were paid to doctors, nurses and drivers. They worked hard and so we got commendations and we are happy with our performance so far”.
Dr. Kawu also noted that one of the biggest challenges in the pandemic response is the myth and misconceptions about COVID-19, adding that up till now there are people that do not believe that COVID-19 is real. He added that the second challenge is that of stigmatisation, noting that a lot of people do not want to be known as being diagnosed of COVID-19 and that some others who have the symptoms would rather not report for fear of stigmatisation. The problem of stigmatisation, according to him, has resulted in some dire consequences and fatalities in FCT.
The Director of Public Health at the HHSS, Dr. Josephine Okechukwu said that managing the situation came with very bad anxiety and huge phobia, adding that there was palpable anxiety because of the unknown. The COVID-19, according to her, is a novel virus that nobody knew anything about and even up till now a lot of things are yet to be known about the virulent virus.
“For us in the FCT, we had three cases at a start. So, managing the three cases that day for us was quite a huge challenge. We were all anxious about what to do and as time progressed we continued to learn from our experiences and challenges. The good thing was that we were able to have a breakthrough”, she added.
Dr. Okechukwu also commended the healthcare workers for their commitment and bravery, stating that in their management of cases, they showed great courage in the face of potential COVID-19 infection. Clinic workers who came down with the infection were eager to come back to work immediately after they were discharged from the hospital in order to support the fight against COVID-19.
The pillar lead for Risk Communication and Social Mobilisation, Dr. Hauwa Suleiman noted that some communities in the FCT were very hostile to them at the beginning of the response when their team carried out sensitisation and awareness creation in such places. Similarly, the Deputy Epidemiologist for the FCT and EOC Manager, Dr. Teresa Ekaete Nwachukwu pointed out that the rate of health workers infection was really frightening to the extent that it took a toll on the frontliners mentally and psychologically. “You can imagine when you come to work and you ask after your colleague and they tell you that he or she was in the treatment centre. It was very devastating for some of us.”
Dr. Nwachukwu also expressed optimism over the performance of the response team generally. In her words, “We believe as a team that we responded well and our capacities have been properly built to respond to outbreaks with lessons learnt from responding to the coronavirus outbreak. I believe that with God helping us, we can deal with almost anything because this has really pushed us to the limit of our capacities, every one of us. We did things we really never knew that we could do”.
This narrative was done in October 2021 as part of the #COVID19NigeriaStories documentation project on state-level responses to COVID-19, implemented by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Nigeria Health Watch with support from the Ford Foundation.