The Commissioner for Health in Oyo State, Dr Basiru Bello has said that the state is ready to control and combat any upsurge in COVID-19 cases occassioned by the ongoing #EndSARS protest.
Addressing journalists on Tuesday at a sensitisation programme for journalists on COVID-19, organised by the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) of the Oyo State COVID-19 Task Force, held at Kakanfo Inn, Bello said the result of flouting NDDC protocols on COVID-19 by the #EndSARS protesters will only manifest weeks after the protest would have ended.
“We have never at anytime relax. We know there may be an upsurge and we have prepared for it.
“You know when this COVID-19 started, Governor Seyi Makinde who is also the chairman of the COVID-19 task force said that we are not just going to prepare structures, that we have to move to offset the pandemic. What we have on ground are permanent COVID-19 treatment and isolation centres. We have it in all the zonal areas. It is quite evident that we seriously have to control any upsurge, we are already prepared. We are actually ready,” Bello said.
The commissioner identified stigmatisation as one of the reasons people are not subjecting themselves to COVID-19 testing in the state.
“As you have seen that the problem of stigmatisation is one of the problems we are having, you could now see that even the few positively tested ones are refusing to give us their contacts because they don’t want to be known as tested positive case. They wouldn’t want their relative to say that since it has affected you, you are now pointing to other people,” he said.
Bello added that there are 27 COVID-19 testing centres across the state, adding: “So that people can wilfully go without the problem of being stigmatised.”
He said:”You can walk in without people knowing you. We know we still very much have it. For example, we are having some high rises in the positivity rate which the government is steering up to and thanks to God, we aren’t unprepared. We’ve had a very good reliable arrest of the case but it is just like the motto of the boys scout which is we are prepared and we are only telling the community to please realise that COVID-19 is still very much around and we implore each and everyone of us to at their own free will go and get tested.
“Nobody will report that because we only send you the report through a coded number and a coded message to your personal phone which you would have given in the form. So, it is still a fairly confidential way. Let me tell you that.”
The commissioner further stated that Oyo State is still the only state doing COVID-19 tests free, saying: “Most other states now take a lot of cash. Unless those who are blessed exceptionally among us who want to travel out and wanted to have a paper certifying them free, those are the ones that will go to specifically designed places, otherwise it is still very free. Everything is covered by the Oyo State Government, including our isolation centres, test is free, food is free as well as medications in all our isolation centres throughout Oyo State.”
In his welcome address, the state Incident Manager, Dr. Taiwo Ladipo, said the aim of the sensitisation programme was to determine what have been done and what could be done better.
He said there are challenges but people must come together to find ways to limit the spread and fatalities associated with COVID-19.
Oladipo further said the since the first case was recorded in the state on March 21,2020, 19,600 tests have been done, with 3,423 positive cases recorded. He added that 42 deaths have also been recorded in the state.
“The state recorded 97 new cases in the last two weeks and the virus affects males within the reproductive age (20-49 years) the most in Oyo State,” he said.
The Incident Manager disclosed that Oorelope local government has the highest test positivity percentage in the state, adding that the factors that fuel COVID-19 transmission in Oyo State include enclosed spaces and crowded environment . He added that the challenges being faced are stigmatisation; refusal of patients to do test; refusal by the people to tell their contacts and refusal of patients to isolate after being confirmed.
In her contribution, a communication expert from UNICEF, Mrs Amina Yahaya, said rumours and myth are part of the reasons people are not taking the virus serious.
She said: ” We have the belief that because we are blacks and the weather is hot, COVID-19 can’t affect us. The weather and our skin colour doesn’t make us immune to the virus. COVID-19 is not a respected of race, weather or colour.
“We need to continue to sensitise people, let them know what it is about and what they should look out for.”
In his remarks, the representative of the World Health Organisation, Dr Marcus Oluwadare said the organisation is ready to support Oyo State to succeed.
He said the scourge is still on, noting: ” We can’t say the curve has been flattened because the we have not done enough tests. We have been working with the ECO to ensure people come for test.We need to spread the news.”
Contributing, Dr Pelumi Adebiyi said there must be a paradigm shift by telling the stories that will resonate with the people.
“We need to engage the public as part of the solution and pass messages that resonate with people’s value system,”he said.
At the end of the programme, some of the suggestions put forward to sensitise the general public about the virus include putting message out for specific sub-population; stepping up how to stop misconception; strategic communication training for government officials; factchecking information.
Others are employing local approach to cure the virus; giving out accurate information and data and making use of agencies like the National Orientation Agency to communicate with people at the grassroot in their language; correcting misinformation and perception about government and setting up drive-in centres.