Initial models predicted that Nigeria would record an estimated 2,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the first month after the index case was confirmed on 27 of February, 2020. By 31st of March, 2020, the country recorded 139 confirmed cases, 9 (7%) discharged, 128 (92%) receiving care and 2 (1%) deaths from COVID-19 in Nigeria. This was way below the predicted cases. One of the factors that contributed to effective preparedness and response was the contribution of NFELTP residents and graduates involved at the strategic, tactical, and operational levels in the response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
As at 30 April 2020, 205 residents and graduates had been deployed to the 34 states including the FCT where COVID-19 has been confirmed. At this time, Nigeria’s record of the disease reads 1,728 cases confirmed, 307 cases discharged and 51 deaths.
Residents and graduates of NFELTP have had to overcome hostile environments, hard-to-reach areas, COVID-19-stigma attitudes, lack of structures for incident management, etc. to carry out their work. Mr. Henry Uguru Ekechi, a Cohort of 10 resident and a member of the NCDC RRT deployed in Niger state reports that, “some of the challenges we have had to deal with include Lack of Incident Management Structure in the State Public Health EOC, Lack of Incident Action Plan (IAP), poor knowledge and compliance to protocols required in surveillance activities responding to the pandemic, none release of the fund to carry out the day-to-day coordination of response, pockets of non-compliance in some communities during contact identification and monitoring, contact tracing in security compromised communities”
He also enumerated solutions to the challenges which they employed which include, “Built the capacity of identified persons and established an Incident Manager and various pillar leads for the response with continuous supervision support from the NRRT, developed IAP for the response in the State, conducted health workers training in the State to build their capacity to respond to the pandemic and also developed protocols to enhance the smooth running of response activities, advocated to the leadership of the State with the developed IAP; this enhanced fund release for the response, advocated to the Head of traditional rulers who made further advocacy to the group of traditional leaders; while a robust risk communication activity was launched in the communities to sensitize the populace, contact tracing within security compromised communities yet to be solved”
Dr. Aishat Usman, Cohort IV graduate of NFELTP and an AFENET Field Coordinator deployed in Oyo state said, “one of the challenges is stigmatization of suspected/confirmed cases in the community. For example, there are returnees from Togo in Ogbomoso who were banished from the community to the bush. When our team got there to take their samples they were in the bush because the community did not want to see them. We were able to resolve the issue by paying advocacy visit to the head of the community and risk communication experts (health educators in that LGA) sensitizing the community on COVID-19, reoriented them that there is no need to stigmatize any suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 rather they should monitor them to make sure they self-isolate. The returnees have been taken back to the community on self- isolation while they wait for their test result.
On 29 April, AFENET supported and hosted a Virtual National Training of Trainers (NTOT) on Risk Communication for Security Agencies in Nigeria. The training was conducted by the Risk Communication Pillar of the National EOC at NCDC, with support from partner agencies as part of the ongoing response to COVID-19. About 300 participants pulled from all the security agencies in Nigeria were in attendance. The goal was to have a pool of security stakeholders with risk communication capacity for COVID-19 response in Nigeria. Objectives of the NTOT include:
- Prepare the security agencies to respond to emerging communication challenges of COVID-19 response.
- Support response activities, especially in security compromised areas
- Build the capacity of the security stakeholders to address stigma and manage rumours using an integrated approach
- Integrate the security agencies into the national and subnational risk communication strategies