• Duration of stay, work scope, specialization still unknown
• Nigeria not only country getting help from China, says minister
• Lagos launches toll-free number for non-COVID-19 care
The team of 15 Chinese medical professionals who arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on April 8, 2020, with medical equipment worth about $1.5 million, is expected to complete the mandatory 14-day isolation period today.
The team is expected to begin work tomorrow after the completion of the 14-day quarantine period. The invitation of the Chinese doctors by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 was highly criticized by most Nigerians especially doctors under the aegis of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA).
But 13 days after the arrival of the Chinese medical team made up of doctors, nurses, and laboratory technicians, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 have failed to provide a tangible update on the Chinese team.
The situation has raised a lot of concerns and questions:Who are these Chinese doctors? What are their names, designations and specialisations? Have they completed the mandatory two-week isolation? Have they started work in Nigeria? What is the scope of their work in Nigeria? How long are they going to stay in Nigeria?
When these questions were put forward to the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, he told The Guardian: “We are not the only ones getting supplies from China…even New York got 1,000 ventilators from them as donations. Start with this recent evidence of Chinese experts giving technical support on COVID-19 to many countries, including our former colonial masters.
“A group of Chinese experts also arrived in the United Kingdom (UK) to help deal with the coronavirus, bringing medical supplies with them. That was the first official medical team from China to the UK to help its fight against COVID-19.
“I do not see the essence of dwelling on the issue of Chinese in the face of all our other challenges before us. Most nations were glad to get support and supplies from China.”
When contacted for an update on the Chinese doctors, the President, Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors (NARD), Dr. Aliyu Sokomba, told The Guardian: “I know very little about the Chinese ‘experts’ and their mission in Nigeria.
“The position of the Honorable Minister of Health is that they are not here to render medical services, they are here to install and train on how to use the equipment donated by China as part of China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC) Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
“Nothing has been said about them since they arrived.” Also, when contacted on the same issue, the Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, told The Guardian: “This is completely in the hands of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH).”
President NMA, Dr. Francis Adedayo Faduyile, told The Guardian yesterday that the association still rejected the importation of the Chinese doctors to help the country fight the novel coronavirus pandemic.
According to Faduyile, the NMA is never against donation or assistance of any form. “In fact, we have openly appreciated individuals and corporate bodies in the country and the Chinese businessman, Jack Ma, for their donations and collaborations,” he said.
The medical doctors said NMA members were also not averse to the sharing of knowledge and experiences but they pointed out to the government that different information technology (IT) platforms could be utilised through teleconferencing, Skype meeting, zoom meetings especially with the increasing use of telemedicine worldwide.
One of the key issues raised by the President, NMA and Associate Professor/Consultant Pathologist, Department of Pathology and Forensic Medicine, Lagos State University College of Medicine/ Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Lagos, Dr. Francis Adedayo Faduyile, was that Nigerian healthcare professionals were not yet overwhelmed in spite of the fragility of our healthcare system, the health personnel have not at any time raised concerns about their inability to treat patients.
He had told The Guardian: “Moreover, the government has not at any time requested from us difficulties seen pertaining to the treatment and management of this infection in the country. We felt that rather than addressing obvious decadence including the deficiency of basic tools and appropriate protective equipment, poor welfare packages and lack of any form of insurance for frontline workers, the Federal Government was busy preparing to receive the Chinese under the guise of donation of consumables and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs). In Nigeria we are not bereft of ideas as well as the technical expertise needed to manage COVID-19.”
But the health minister had told journalists that the Chinese medical professionals were not in Nigeria to treat Nigerian patients but to provide technical support and training to Nigerians involved in treating COVID-19 patients.
Ehanire said the experts would be helping with strategy for and management of the disease, but would first be quarantined. “They will be in quarantine for 14 days. They knew that before they came and they conducted their own tests before they left their country,” Ehanire said.
The team will be tested under quarantine in accordance with Nigeria’s existing restrictions on travellers from high-risk countries such as China and Italy. Meanwhile, the Lagos State Government has launched “EKO TELEMED” for the residents in the State in order to further protect the citizens and reduce their risk of contacting coronavirus.
The General Manager, Lagos State Health Management Agency (LASHMA), Dr. Emmanuella Zamba, speaking on the online launch, yesterday, said that with effect from today, residents in the state would have access to highly trained and experienced medical doctors for non-emergency primary care advice via voice or video call without going out from their homes.
Zamba said that residents who develop any non-COVID health issues during the lockdown period only need to dial 08000EKOMED (08000356633) free toll. According to her, the free toll line, would enable residents to have direct access to non-emergency primary care via voice or video call and speak with trained medical doctors in any of the four major languages in Lagos State – English Language, Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo.
She said that doctors and case managers would be available 24/7 on EKO TELEMED to provide medical services to the residents of Lagos State for a period of eight weeks as the state continued to roll out its strategies for containing the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to her, if further medical treatment is needed after due consultation with the medical doctors, non-COVID-19 cases would be referred to designated and empaneled healthcare providers under the Lagos State Health Scheme (LSHS) or where applicable, preferred Healthcare Providers but patients with high index of COVID-19 suspicion would be referred to designated testing sites and isolation centres in Lagos State through the COVID19 HOTLINE 08000CORONA.
Zamba who commended Governor BabajideSanwo-Olu for approving the project, said that EKO TELEMED provided by the Lagos State Health Management Agency (LASHMA) is part of COVID-19 response.
She added that the project would increase access to care, reduce the challenge of travel to hospitals in this period of restricted movements, except for emergencies. It would also create an entry point for quicker evacuation of confirmed and severely ill suspected COVID-19 cases to the designated treatment facility. This, according to her, would ensure better health outcomes for affected citizens thereby reducing morbidity and mortality associated with the pandemic.
The general manager who said that EKO TELEMED marks a new beginning in the provision of medical consultation and services for the Lagos State Health Scheme, appealed to the residents in the state to tap into the opportunity in order for the Lagos State government to further protect their lives and family members as well as contain the spread of the virus.
According to her, discussions are ongoing to ensure that this novel service would continue to be provided under the Lagos State Health Scheme.
She reminded the residents in the state to at all times wash their hands, ensure social distancing and obey the lockdown order to the letter so that collectively, they could contain the virus.