The Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Professor Kemebradikumo Pondei, has justified the Commission’s decision to give financial support to Niger Delta states to fight Coronavirus disease, COVID-19.
Addressing a press conference in Port Harcourt on Wednesday, 8 April, 2020, Prof Pondei said that as an interventionist agency, it was important for the NDDC to work in synergy with the nine state governments in the Niger Delta region.
He stated: “Having discussed with the different state governments, we didn’t want to duplicate efforts. For instance, we wanted to procure ventilators but most of the people who say that they can supply the equipment, do not have them in the country. Again, ventilators are now in short supply even in the US. The prices have also skyrocketed. Besides, since the states had made plans to get the ventilators, we thought it was better to support them financially.”
The NDDC Chief Executive Officer noted that even if the Commission was able to procure equipment and drugs, it would still need to hand them over to the states for deployment. He cited the case of primary healthcare centres built by the NDDC in different communities, which were not functional today because the states were not carried along.
Pondei said that the way forward for Nigeria was to quickly increase the number of testing centres across the country. He explained that the NDDC initially attempted to procure some equipment and materials to help in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, but with the lockdown and the attendant logistic problems in the country, the Commission decided to support the states monetarily.
He remarked: “It is not our place to tell them how to build their capacity. Each state knows what their challenges are; they know which facilities they have and which ones they require. The NDDC in addition to the financial support, is carrying out enlightenment campaigns. We are also extending support to youth and women groups across the states.”
The NDDC boss observed that the world was dealing with a pandemic that has spread beyond international boundaries and overwhelmed quite a number of countries. According to him, the key thing was containment and this required finding out those that had been exposed and tracing there contacts, so as to put them under some form of quarantine.
Pondei said that much as testing was key, it was also a problem because no nation had the capacity to test everybody. He noted: “A number of nations have made the mistake of acquiring test kits that have ended up being useless. Right now, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, is doing a very good job, expanding the testing centers and getting requisite equipment.”
He observed that most of the kits being used were not efficient and may not be able to detect COVID-19 “because everybody has one way or another been exposed to Coronavirus and those kits just test for antibodies that already exist in most of us.”
Pondei stressed the need for people to imbibe simple health tips like social distancing, not smoking in a crowd, good coughing etiquette and regular hand washing with soap and water. He advised that hand washing techniques be taught through the mass media.
The NDDC boss underscored the need for a comprehensive health insurance scheme for the country, stating: “Health insurance is the key to universal health coverage, which is the desire of everybody.”
He added: “For us to get health insurance to work, there is need to make it compulsory for all Nigerians. It does not work well when it is voluntary. In all the countries where it has worked well, it is mandatory.
“In the United Kingdom, as long as you work, you will contribute to health insurance. In our own country, it has been difficult even with the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, which has been able to cover only five per cent of the population.”
Dismissing the various conspiracy theories in the public domain, Pondei said that it was a big distraction that was capable of making people to lose sight of the problem. “This talk about 5G network and COVID-19 could be a source of distraction. While people are debating over unsubstantiated claims, the virus is spreading. We should be worried and thinking about finding solutions. That is why public enlightenment is very important. Some people do not even believe that the virus exists. Others say that it doesn’t kill black people. But in the United States of America, blacks are dying in their numbers.”
“The 5G is supposed to be a massive improvement on the 4G network in terms of speedy delivery. It is a faster communication network. There is no scientific evidence to link COVID-19 pandemic and 5G network. There is still a lot that is not known about this virus, but it is clear that it is not from genetic manipulation or from any laboratory.