The Federal Government is worried that there might have been a rise in the number of deaths not associated with coronavirus (COVID-19) since the outbreak of the disease in the country.
Many of the deaths, it said, could be attributable to the phobia some Nigerians have developed for hospitals where they are supposed to receive qualitative care for fear that they might be diagnosed with COVID-19.
It is also believed that many health workers are now reluctant to attend to patients for fear that they might have contracted the virus.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, who made this known during the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja yesterday, said antenatal, immunization, out-patient visits and skilled birth attendants have all dropped by more than half.
He said: “There has been some reduction in routine health 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 visits dropped from 4 million to about 2 million; antenatal visits from 1.3 million to 655,000; 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 emphasised 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: “Pathologists from eight states have been invited for training.
“There are reported cases of deaths in Kano and Zamfara states, as these are the ones that have been mentioned openly.
“The situation in Kano has largely stabilised, thanks to the good relationship between the visiting federal task force team and the 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 centres.
“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 the controversial index case in Benue State, Mrs. Susan Idoko-Okpe, to allow a test sample to be taken to the laboratory for testing.