The Federal Government has expressed worries that there might have been an increase in the number of deaths not associated with coronavirus (COVID-19) since the beginning of the outbreak in the country.
It said this could be attributable to fear by some Nigerians to visit hospitals to receive qualitative care over apprehension of contracting COVID-19 or health workers refusing to attend to patients for fear of contracting the virus.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, who made this known on Friday in Abuja during the briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, said antenatal, immunization, out-patient visits, skilled birth attendants, etc., have all dropped by more than half.
He said: “There have been some reductions in the activity of treating routine cases because of fear of COVID-19.
“As a result of that we do worry that some deaths may have occurred not directly in connection with the coronavirus. If a person couldn’t go to get help in a hospital because of the fear of coronavirus or doctors refusing to attend to such persons.
“Latest statistics from the National Health Management Information System (NHMIS) indicates that Out-Patient visit dropped from 4 million to about 2 million, Antenatal visits from 1.3 million to 655 thousand, Skilled Birth attendance from 158,374 to less than 99,000, while immunization services dropped to about half.
“All these have as yet undetermined consequences, which the easing of the lockdown should hopefully address. However, the downside of easing the restrictions needs to be balanced of with a collective determination by all of us, not only to comply with protective and prophylactic advisories, but to encourage relatives, friends, neighbours and customers to do same.
“The use of facial covers like masks in places where social distancing may be difficult or impractical, should be supported and emphasized through donation of masks to the population, as an act of goodwill. Face masks should become commonplace and I look forward to all cooks and food vendors, for example, wearing masks, or risk losing customers.”
Concerning the cases of unexplained deaths in Kano and other states, the minister said: “Pathologist from 8 states have been invited for training. There are both reported cases of deaths in Kano state and Zamfara, as these are the ones that have been mentioned openly.
“The situation in Kano has largely stabilized, thanks to the good relationship between the visiting Federal task team and Kano State Task force on COVID-19, one manifestation of this being the high number of new cases recorded daily from the fact that all labs in Kano are now functioning and clearing the sample backlog, with over 350 tests done daily. The State government has been doing well in opening up more treatment and Isolation centers.
“A strategy document of National Primary Healthcare development Agency is being developed and repurposed for application to Kano; but also to similar high density, high burden metropoles like Lagos to respond more specifically to the challenges of COVID-19 tracing, tracking, testing, Isolation and treatment in congested communities. If implemented it could go a long way in addressing many challenges looming before us.
“A Federal Ministry of Health team has been assembled to proceed to Sokoto and Bornu on fact finding and support missions; to engage with State authorities and determine material and technical needs.
“Part of the mission in Kano is to assist State pathologists and scientists to unravel the mysteries around unexplained deaths in some States. The tools for forensic investigation have been jointly developed for a uniform approach and balanced results.”
Ehanire explained that the Ministry has been able to persuade Mrs. Susan Idoko-Okpe to allow a test sample to be taken to our laboratory for testing yesterday.
“We have been able to persuade Mrs. Susan Idoko-Okpe, now popularly known as the Benue Lady, to allow a test sample to be taken to our laboratory for testing yesterday; the result is being awaited any time now and it will be given to her in person.
“Please note that, while a patient may disclose their result by themselves, the Ministry of Health cannot do so, except with the permission of the one concerned,” he said