By Dr. Gani Enahoro
Covid-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus, similar to the coronavirus that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that ravaged the Asian continent and was transported across several borders in 2002. It had come through bat that served as animal reservoir and mutated yet in another animal- a civet and then got into man in a fashion similar to how Ebola sneaked into humans.
It was labeled SARS-CoV virus and recorded high fatality rate. In 2012, a similar coronavirus mutated in bat and was transmitted into a camel, where it mutated again, became deadly and infected man and caused the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome(MERS) that was also very devastating. But the new variant of coronavirus, with lower fatality rate that caused Covid-19 today also came through the bat reservoir and transmitted to another animal, suspected to be a pangolin where it mutated and infected man.
The character of the new coronavirus is yet to be fully understood and that is why the human symptoms to watch out for, have continued to elongate ever since. At the beginning it was a mere check for fever, headache, body weakness, slight sore throat, dry unproductive coughing and difficulty in breathing in the symptomatic patients. With time it has added loss of sense of smell and taste as early warning signs, vomiting and even diarrhea. Time will tell if there won’t be more to know.
Covid-19 as it stands today will run its full course naturally, before it abates, whether we like it or not or do all the things we should do or not, inclusive of lockdowns, and that is without prejudice to the national and global figures paraded on a daily basis worldwide. So, it may just be right to wind down the hype and anxiety which the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force led by Mr. Boss Mustapha (SGF), has inadvertently brought on us and just rely on local efforts in the local governments to reach out to the citizens with necessary information.
A weekly update from NCDC with reduced razzmatazz of television may just be more meaningful at this time. The PTF must go beyond the Covid-19 emergency and help to refocus the NCDC towards a better managed public health, by taking onboard other segments equally vital that have been ignored so far in this outbreak, which could later become the Achilles’ heel in no distant future. There should have been the animal component in the containment strategy of Covid-19, such as it was done overseas that reported the discovery of the cross-infection in dogs, cats and a tiger in a US Zoo from infected human patients. It is a settled medical fact that about 65% of infectious diseases in man are traceable to animal sources, including the current Covid-19 outbreak. There are quite a lot to learn when diverse disciplines interrelate.
In a way, this Coronavirus is particularly flamboyant, choosing a grand entry into the world for it to be noticed and given utmost attention, and today it has taken the center stage for months and would most likely remain for a longer time with man. In history, it has become chief amongst viruses and could be described as a very successful virus albeit in terms of what viruses do. Had the outbreak started in Africa, perhaps it would have been dealt with by several other social-viruses that have become the ‘standard’ way of life infamously, and may never have gotten the headlines as a pandemic worldwide. At best it would have joined its other more devastating front runners like Lassa fever virus that we have learned to cope with since 1969 and Ebola virus that was a recent threat across West Africa.
When the near pandemic H5N1 virus that caused ‘Bird Flu’ attempted to take a birth here in 2006, the refusal of our veterinary authorities to agree with international cajoles on universal principles that expected us to vaccinate all our birds countrywide played a big role in wiping off the virus. Nigeria simply insisted on a “no vaccination policy” and it worked magic for us.Egypt that ‘follow-followed’ standard practice of vaccination, became the epicenter of bird flu in Africa and had reported persistence of different strains of the virus several years after we had forgotten about the disease. That was one-kudos up for boldly finding a domestic response to tough challenges.
Today, for Covid-19 the debate has become intense whether to use vaccines mandatorily or not and the Federal House of Representatives through its Hon. Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila is at the center of the Control of Infectious Diseases bill that has been roundly criticized by the Civil Society for its sincerity. Unfortunately, because Covid-19 started from abroad there have been workable and unworkable dictations imported on the protocols to deal with it, and the world would never know what the African concoctions from roots, herbal menthols, inhalation of all sorts and easy access to capsules of different colours that are hawked freely on the streets, in commercial buses or sold in dispensaries and pharmacies over-the-counter, would have done to the coronavirus. You won’t find pharmacies sell most drugs to you abroad except with a signed and crosschecked medical prescription earlier forwarded to them.
Africans are peculiar; it is just a small fraction of our sick population that gets treated in hospitals, more because of the ineffective national health insurance schemes. The majority manages to get by on self-medication with risky combination therapies that recently included boiling paracetamol with meat! The use of all sorts of roots and herbs may have helped in building different levels of community pre-immunity that is not strange to the science of population medicine, for which veterinarians are experts since their animal patients could be in hundreds and thousands when they go for herds treatment. Therefore, we need to chart our own courses as Africans and collaborate to preserve our common destinies.
The fact that Madagascar has blazed the trail with CVO, a local remedy their President claimed cures Covid-19 shows that we can survive by ourselves if we look inwards. Africa needs to replicate this effort all over the continent, rather than overwhelm the Madagascar capacity through humongous orders. The plant that was extracted is known to grow naturally in our lands, unlike the secrecy of the past that did not help our trado-medicare, resulting in lack of documentation and its attendant generational losses that should have been our contributions to the body of global medical knowledge today.
The world obviously must brace up to live for a very long time with community transmission of this disease because of the stubbornness and mobility of man, no matter how hard we try to flatten the curve and there is nothing anyone can do about that.
The dream of instant cure and elimination of the Covid-19 virus from the earth surface is a wishful thinking, its not going to go away like that and the very vulnerable persons will continue to succumb. The policy of lockdown is as good as it is epidemiologically has an expiry date, otherwise it could lead to financial and economic ruin of the people and the country. What we must develop going forward is the predict-and-prevent strategy that is used efficiently in managing large animal herds.
All the warnings, on hand washing, sanitation, respiratory hygiene, social distancing are bio-security measures. Lockdown is a bio containment strategy and surveillance is where all hands must be on the deck and that should include a broad spectrum of professional involvement, with the public and private sector collaborating. The principle of lockdown has its benefit only when there is a total compliance by the entire populace and that is where the demerits lie. The intention is to wear out the virus by running its incubation course for the maximum number of days with people in seclusions and sufferers identified for critical care while contact tracing becomes easy to do. But a disobedient single escapee from lockdown becomes a potential hazard and there were quite a number of Almaijiris running riots all over the country, sneaking with animals to cross interstate borders, all of which render lockdown ineffective.
There was also the lack of institutionalized social security plans. The strategic national grain reserves in big silos played some roles, just as the stockpile of seized imported rice at the depots of Nigerian Customs Service was shared, perhaps that was enough for just a few days in some critical places. Now we need to learn from Covid-19 how deep we should plan for the rainy days in our future strategies. We must gradually whittle down our hydrocarbon dependent economy and go green with agriculture, building more silos not only for grains, but also for dry rations generally in all the 36 states and FCT. Tomorrow, it may not be covid-19, but another type of war that would require that palliatives be shared to everybody, particularly the more vulnerable.
Dr. Enahoro is the Former Councillor for Africa at World Veterinary Association (WVA); Vice President, African Veterinary Association (AVA); Former National President, Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA), he writes from Warri, Delta State.