As soon as COVID-19 became a global heath challenge, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu directed the State Ministry of Health to mobilize and prepare a plan to protect our people from it. When the first case was recorded in Nigeria, Governor Ikpeazu went a step further to set up an inter-ministerial committee to manage our preparation and response to the disease with the state Commissioner for Health, Dr Joe Osuji, leading other Commissioners including those of Information, Homeland Security and Science & Technology.
The committee has since set out to work and started by identifying available intervention resources within the state including the following:
1.. Two isolation centers in Umuahia: Federal Medical Center (FMC) and Amachara Specialist Hospital, with the former having good experience in management of patients with infectious diseases such as those infected with Lassa Fever. The facilities are purpose-equipped for isolation of patients with such infectious diseases including those who may present with Coronavirus.
The Committee has also identified and readied a third Isolation center at Abia State University Teaching Hospital (ABSUTH), Aba, and we are working to prepare another one in Abia North Senatorial District of the State.Over 10,000 face masks and 1,000 digital thermometers with the state ministry of health for distribution to health institutions and others were in place and are currently being distributed.
2.. Adequate media resources to launch aggressive sensitization campaign in the state through partnership with private and government owned media houses in the state and beyond were identified. We have since launched the sensitization campaign and released phone lines to contact both local and national responders.
Currently, the committee has advised all electronic broadcast institutions in the state to emphasize Igbo versions of their sensitization materials in order to reach more Abians in rural areas. In the same vein, all LGA Transition Council Chairmen in the state have been directed to enlist the services of town criers to support the sensitization effort.Full activation of Abia State Tele-Health facility to respond to enquiries as well as coordinate with all the primary, secondary and tertiary health care facilities in the state is in place.
A very capable and well trained Abia Tele-health team is currently training staff of all 722 Primary Heathcare Centers (PHCs) and Officers in Charge (OiCs) across all 17 LGAs on how to remotely (on the phone) prevent, identify, manage, control and report and follow-up any suspected Coronavirus cases. And the protocol is to step-down same to all staff members of their PHCs. The training is scheduled to be completed in the shortest possible time for deployment to assist those already on the facility.
3.. Sanitizers have been distributed to health workers in the state and automatic sanitizers are presently being mounted in government health institutions and offices.
The committee has reviewed proposals to close both public and private schools in the state, measures to stop any gathering of more than 50 persons, and protection of our markets without disrupting normal activities and/or creating panic.
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, who will henceforth take over the leadership of the COVID-19 response structure in the state, has directed that all public and private primary and secondary schools in the state make efforts to commence end of term examinations from Monday, March 23, 2020 and close on April 3, 2020. In the interim, all schools have been directed, through the state Commissioner for Education, Dr KCK Nwangwa, to provide materials for hand washing, preferably running water, before students enter and leave the school as well as during school hours.
As events unfold, the Government will review the decision to keep the schools open and take necessary measures that will be in the overriding interest of Abians.
The state ministry of health has also been directed to compulsorily position hand sanitizers, digital thermometers and hand washing facilities in all government offices as well as work with churches, market unions, hotel owners, banks and such other institutions to ensure that they also provide the materials as well as ensure good sanitary conditions. These materials should be positioned at the entry point to the facilities with designated persons, who must wear appropriate protective gears, including face masks, manning them.
The government will immediately shut down, without further notice, private and public premises where adequate measures, including the above stated, are not in place to protect the people, residents and visitors to Abia State.
We are currently reviewing suggestions on banning public gathering of more than 50 persons and will communicate the decision reached in due course. Similarly, we are considering measures to further protect our markets, malls and other places of commerce and will communicate decision in due course.
Finally, we currently do not have any case of Coronavirus infection in Abia State and we are hopeful that God will continue to protect us but we are also proactively working to help ourselves. We wish to call on the federal government to consider providing COVID-19 confirmation testing facilities in all the thirty six states of the federation and FCT, or, at the least, consider providing one per geopolitical zone for easier access.
Chief John Okiyi Kalu
Honorable Commssioner for Information, Abia State.