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Health sector workers strike may reverse COVID-19 response gains ― PTF

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The Presidential Task Force on the COVID-19 Pandemic has described as unfortunate the declaration of strike action by the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), saying that it can reverse the gains of the national response to the disease.

The Chairman of the task force and Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha, who made this declaration during Monday’s briefing in Abuja, praised the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) for calling off their strike.

He urged JOHESU not to down tools as he pointed out that the Minister of Labour & Employment has assured that efforts are being made to resolve their grievances.

Mustapha explained that the cautious approach to the management of the pandemic has helped the country’s containment effort.

He said: “One critical element we must not lose sight of is the fact that our cautious approach has tremendously helped in our containment efforts. Therefore, we should avoid complacency at all cost. Our focus should go beyond flattening the curve and ridding our land of this virus just as we did with the poliovirus.

“Similarly, the contribution of our health workers has no doubt contributed to our gains. In this regard, the PTF wishes to appreciate the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) for calling off their strike action. The PTF, however, views the recent declaration of industrial action by the Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU) as rather unfortunate and capable of reducing our gains and endangering more loss of lives.

“We, therefore, call on JOHESU to stand up to be counted at this critical moment because a continuation of the strike could jeopardize the small gains made in the fight against the virus and the efforts to transform our health systems.

“The Hon. Minister of Labour & Employment has assured that every effort is being made to resolve all issues and have JOHESU call its members back to work.

“The PTF, therefore, appreciates Mr President for keeping our land borders closed because those are potential seeding points for importing the virus into Nigeria. More so, as ECOWAS Champion of the COVID-19 response, Mr President should adopt all practical means of containing the virus within the sub-continent of West Africa.”

Mustapha affirmed that Nigeria has continued o record a steady decline in the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus, saying that the national response has thus achieved results.

He added: “Nigeria continues to progressively witness declining confirmed cases of COVID-19 with a record low number of 79 cases on Sunday, September 13, 2020. While this suggests that we are winning this war, the reality is that we need to improve on our commitment to eliminate the virus completely by abiding with the protocols so that we can return to a semblance of what was our normal life.

“In a very modest way, therefore, we could say that our National Response, under the guidance of Mr President, is achieving impressive results and this has been commended by our development partners.

“The PTF wishes to use this opportunity to also thank our development partners as their support has contributed in no small measures to the successes so far recorded and we count on their continued support as we progress in tackling this pandemic.”

The PTF boss expressed dismayed that people with other non-communicable diseases are more likely to suffer from the effects of coronavirus and therefore stressed the need for access to healthcare.

He said: “Over time, the PTF has been sounding the alarm bell of increasing evidence that Nigerians and indeed Africans living with non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes are more likely to suffer severe cases of COVID-19 and die. The COVID-19 pandemic has reaffirmed the importance of everyone having access to quality health care that they can afford.

“Reports have however shown that diagnosis and treatment for chronic conditions are among the most frequently disrupted health services globally. A rapid survey by WHO revealed that 41 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have reported disruptions to such services.

“It is of great concern to find that just when people with hypertension and other chronic conditions need to support the most, many are being left out in the cold. The PTF, therefore, urges the various medical facilities not to neglect patients with other conditions on account of COVID-19.”

On the effort to have a vaccine for the virus, Mustapha assured that Nigeria will not be left out when a safe and effective one is found.

According to him, “What the world still awaits is the arrival of an effective vaccine. The PTF updated you last week about the progress made with candidate vaccines and the phases of the trials. We also assured you that Nigeria will not be left out when eventually access is needed for a safe and effective vaccine certified by global public health authorities.

“Given this timeline, however, we do not expect vaccines to be available for countries until the second half of 2021. What this means is that we need to, more than ever before, adhere to the prescribed NPIs and diligently avoid contracting the virus.”

On the resumption of schools, he noted that some states have announced a timeline as he reiterated the need for vigilance in adhering to prescribed protocols.

The SGF stated: “The PTF is aware that a number of sub-nationals have announced the re-opening of schools from this week, while others have developed a phased plan for such re-opening. I wish to reiterate the need for more vigilance in adhering to protocols appropriately developed with the guidance of experts. The fear of a likely spike and/or resurgence should always put us on our toes. Always remember that a number of countries including Israel have announced new stringent measures. These are warning signs for us in Nigeria and Africa.”

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