One question many people are dying to ask Lagos Health Commissioner, Prof. Akin Abayomi is what he thinks about each morning when he wakes up, with the enormity of the challenges before him as Health Commissioner. That was one of the questions City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE asked him last week when he met this handsome doctor for an interview. And he promptly revealed what was on his mind. Below are excerpts.
A few months back, you revealed how Lagos State government got to know about COVID-19 ahead of time and how this helped you prepare for it. Tell us a bit more about how you got wind of the virus early this year?
We all heard about COVID-19 since December 2019. We were watching the outbreak, and we saw it gradually expanding. So, by January, we had noticed that it had started spreading across South East Asia. And then as you recall, it started arriving in Europe and the Middle East and so we activated what we called our Enhanced sense of Importance and we established what we called the Incidence Command System which makes the Governor the Incident Commander. We did that early in February and we got our first Index Case around the 27th of February.
We had already been preparing since the time of Ebola. And from January till when we got our first Index Case, we ramped up our preparations, in terms of Training & Infrastructure, in preparation for an Index case. And of course, it wasn’t surprising when we got our index case eventually from Europe. We had already put in place significant plans to address that.
What will you call the achievements you have recorded so far?
What helped us is that we had prepared. The second thing is that we were able to contain the initial imported cases. So, we had a series of imported cases. What that did was to delay the onset of the active community transmission which gave us time. In circumstances like this, Time is very valuable.
Because with Time, you can ramp up your Infrastructure and Training. You can develop your programmes. You can do your public awareness. So, our early aggressive Contact Tracing and Isolation and ability to develop the required test that are necessary to confirm COVID-19, made it possible for us to flatten the curve, very much, right at the beginning. For the first 3 months, we kept the curve very flat. That allowed us to put resources into important places to train people, to build isolation centres, and to do a bit of public awareness and campaign to make sure that people understand what is COVID-19. And to make people understand it, because COVID-19 behaves differently, in different environments. Now, we know how it behaves in Lagos. It has helped us define our policies. So, buying that time, helped us. If we had just had a full-scale outbreak right from the beginning we would not have been able to put in place the necessary structures, Training, Manpower and also a better understanding of how COVID-19 works or affects people in Lagos.
Your job must be very challenging. When you wake up each morning, what is always on your mind? What do you think of, considering that you are at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19?
We are making the best of a bad situation. But we are also grateful that, by the Grace of God for some reasons, we are not seeing the same disease profile, as we see on Television in the Northern Hemisphere, in Europe & America.
Had it behaved the same way in Nigeria, as it is behaving in Europe, & America, it will have been a very sad situation. You can imagine, even with the strong health systems in Europe & America, they are still overwhelmed. Our health systems are very weak.
We have poor infrastructure, reduced manpower and equipment. Generally speaking, our Health Systems are not particularly robust or resilient. So, under the circumstances in which we find ourselves, we are doing well. What has happened now is that we recognise that we really need to focus on health system strengthing.
COVID-19 has opened our eyes to this extreme weakness but I hope that just because the disease is likely different or with a less aggressive profile in this environment, doesn’t detract from the fact that, moving forward, we need to really focus on some major changes.
So, what I think of every morning is: how do I get up and use the system that we have to provide the best strategy to essentially save people’s lives, those that fall into the Moderate to Severe. I worry about them every day. And I am putting things in place to try and rescue as many of those people as much as possible because those are the ones that become critical and die. Meanwhile, the Mild to the Moderate will not die, but all we have to do is to stop them from spreading it too fast. But my main challenge every morning is: how many severe patients do I have? And how are we going to save their lives?