Panic as new strain of virus claims life in China

THE GUARDIAN Newspaper- Chukwuma Muanya

• Why coronavirus cases in Nigeria may exceed 100 in 48 hours
• WHO tasks nations on diagnostic testing
• Nigeria, others may suffer a decline in donor support funds’
• FG urged to subsidise medical test, treatment

Amid seeming inability to contain the coronavirus which broke out in China and is fast ravaging many other countries, there was panic yesterday as another strain of the deadly virus called Hantavirus claimed one life in same China.

A state-run English-language newspaper, Global Times, wrote on Twitter yesterday: “A person from Yunnan Province died while on his way back to Shandong Province for work on a chartered bus on Monday. He was tested positive for hantavirus. Other 32 people on the bus were tested.”

But, contrary to some reports, the virus is not new. The World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2000, confirmed 12 suspected cases and three deaths from the Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome in Las Tablas and Guarare districts, Los Santos Province, Panama.

In 1978, a causative agent Korean haemerologic fever was isolated from small-infected field rodent near Hantan River in South Korea.

The virus was named as Hantaan virus, after the name of the river Hantan. This initial discovery dates back to scientific approaches that were initiated after the Korean War (1951-1953), during which more than 3,000 cases of Korean hemorrhagic fever were reported among the United Nations (UN) troops.

In 1981, a new genus termed as “hantavirus” was introduced in the Bunyaviridae family, which included the viruses that cause haemoroligic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS).

The United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on its website, writes that hantaviruses are a family of viruses spread mainly by rodents and can cause varied disease syndromes in people across the world.
MEANWHILE, the WHO has said that more diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is critical to tracking the virus, understanding epidemiology, informing case management, and suppressing transmission.

It is feared that with more suspected cases being tested, Nigeria may record more than 100 cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in 48 hours. The fear was informed by some predictive models in epidemiology that suggest that each case must have exposed no fewer than five persons to the virus. So, 100 cases is a modest estimate.

The Guardian had predicted when the country had only one confirmed case, that Nigeria was more likely to record more cases within weeks. The prediction was informed by a WHO report that Nigeria and 12 other countries could be overwhelmed by the pandemic because of weak health systems.
THERE is also growing concern on how fast the pharmaceutical sector and other relevant sectors can respond to the shutdown in international travels and the impact on drugs and medical supplies since more than 70 per cent of the products are imported. Also, there was worry over the ability to get donor funds for Nigeria’s health sector, as the donor countries and governments are themselves now in need of aids.

In a reaction to the situation yesterday, the President, Commonwealth Medical Association (CMA) and consultant family health doctor, Dr. Osahon Enabulele, told The Guardian: “In some countries where there have been a shut down of borders, cargo flights are exempted but expected to observe strict guidelines. This is because of the need to ensure sustained pharmaceutical and medical supplies, which are very important in the management of this COVID-19 challenge. So, I expect the authorities to always undertake a thorough analysis of any contemplated action before announcing or implementing it.

“The impact of coronavirus on Nigeria’s health sector is, undoubtedly, huge. Indeed, it has the potential of affecting all sectors of a country’s economy. I may not be able to put the impact in terms of naira and kobo, but I can categorically state that the economic cost and impact is tremendous.”

Enabulele, a former president of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), added: “Since most of the donor agencies are headquartered mostly in Europe and the Americas, it is expected that they will give primary attention and support to the efforts to contain Covid-19 in those countries, before looking elsewhere.

“So, it is likely that the developing countries of Africa, Nigeria inclusive, may witness a sharp decline in donor support and donor funds.”

Enabulele spoke to The Guardian after an inspection tour of the isolation centres in Lagos, Gwagwalada, and National Hospital Abuja, to ascertain the state of preparedness of the government health institutions, as the world continues to battle COVID 19.

He called on the government to step up her efforts and deploy more facilities and resources to combat the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed thousands of lives globally.

The Chief Medical Director of MART Clinics, Maryland, Lagos and Adjunct Professor of Medicine at the University of Illinois, United States, Oladapo Ashiru, told The Guardian yesterday: “This situation requires an immediate far-reaching and possibly draconian action. The only way to get over this pandemic is a total lock down of the states and, if possible, the country. Exempted are only those in essential services like power, water and medical emergency. It is Public Health 101. It is said that the earlier you lock down, the shorter the duration and the spread of the virus. The consequences on health and economy in Nigeria are beyond comprehension.”

President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, told The Guardian yesterday that the impact of the coronavirus would be catastrophic and endemic on the health sector. He said the impact could be analysed on two levels: current and potential.

Currently, the impact is phenomenal but could potentially become catastrophic. Firstly, we are aware that China and India, Nigeria’s major sources of raw materials, medical equipment and finished pharmaceuticals are currently ‘out of business’. So shortages are already occurring and will become increasingly serious as the pandemic subsists. That means pharmaceutical importers and manufacturers are already experiencing reduced activity, which may lead to cut back in operations and manpower redundancies.

“Secondly, with the increasing scarcity, prices of medicaments, especially those related to managing the infection, are inching up and that may fuel inflation and reduce the purchasing power of the ordinary citizens and perhaps limit their ability to take preventive measures.

“Also, should the shortages persist much longer, there may be a resurgence in the incidence of substandard and fake medicines. It has long been established that scarcity of medicines is one of the key motivators of fake medicines.

“With increasing cases of coronavirus infection in the country, our health infrastructure and facilities which are fragile in normal times may crack with increased pressure, with dire consequences; more so with limited emergency medicine, and critical care space. Our hope and prayer are that the infection is contained in the urban areas because should it reach our semi-urban and rural areas, the mortality will go out of hand,” he said.


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