•Reveals Shocking Things About COVID-19
A few days ago, the Lagos State Health Commissioner, Prof. Akin Abayomi spoke to City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE about the state’s battle to rid Lagos State of COVID-19 pandemic. In the course of the interview, he revealed that the fear factor of COVID-19 is beginning to take its toll on many people round the world. Below are excerpts of the interview
Over the last few months, the social media has been agog with stories about how to curb prevent and treat Covid-19. What do you make of such stories?
I enjoy reading those stories. The social media is a very dynamic place. It is an interesting place, because it gives you a pulse and a sense of what people are thinking, what people are saying. Some people are informed. Some people are very elaborate in their imaginations. If you are not in government you won’t know the true concerns that the Lagos government has. Lagos is a big place. It has many ministries. It has to service Security, Environment, Transportation, Agriculture, Education, Welfare, Electricity, Water.
So, with the meagre resources we have even though we are a big economy, but our budget is no where near what is required to deliver exactly what everybody wants. So, we have to manage with what we have and we have to do the best. We need to make our resources go as far as possible and be as impactful as much as possible.
So, yes the social media is vibrant in one way or the other and people have a right to express themselves, which is encouraging and we like to see it, we like to hear it. We like to interact. We serve the pulse of the community through social media. Some things we do and somethings we just try to do and somethings we just can’t do.
When we talk about the myths & fictions of Covid-19, which ones have you heard or read? Which ones are true? Which ones are not true?
We are in the age of evidence based, strategic planning. So, we believe in Tangible things, we work with facts. We work with Data. So, there could be Conspiracy Theories everywhere and there could be imaginations everywhere and, we look at them. But then, we look for the FACTS. What is the Truth? Where is their proof for whatever imagination that is circulating out there?
We can’t as a government deal with Myths and Imaginations. We have to deal with Facts. In government and as we do in science we deal with the evidence-based. So, where is the evidence for the conjecture and the hypothesis?
If you are saying, for example, Covid-19 is destroyed by sunlight, well, let’s prove it.
If you are saying that Covid-19 doesn’t like the heat and it is not going to be aggressive here as it is in London, well, prove it. These are experiments that our scientists can carry out. So, far, that hasn’t proven to be the case, you know.
At the beginning, if you recall, they said it is not going to spread in Nigeria because it is too hot. Well, it is spreading like wildfire now. So, that theory went out of the window. There are multiple theories like that. We as the government can’t say Yes or No. We look to our scientists and our academics to prove things for us and then we use that evidence to manage our policies.
Apart from what you have told people to do in terms of washing hands and social distancing, are there other things you can tell people to take in terms of food or in terms of things they need to eat?
Well again, I just talked about evidence-based. There is no evidence. The only way to prevent you getting Covid-19 is to not come in to contact with the virus, or, to have an immune system that already knows Covid and the only way that will happen is if we vaccinate you or you have been effected with Covid-19 before. Having said that, we know that Healthy Living boosts your immune system. Good rest, a good diet, exercise, you are not overweight, you don’t have certain conditions.
Those are the things that will stop you from being vulnerable to Covid-19. So, we generally advise the population to live a Healthy Life, Balanced Diet, take your Vitamins, get enough rest, do a bit of exercise, don’t be too stressed, because we know that those things boost your immune system. But we can’t say categorically that this is going to prevent you from catching Covid-19. We just don’t know enough about Covid-19 because its a new infection because we haven’t done enough research.
How do you cope sir with visiting all the isolation centres daily? Doesn’t that expose you, as you see those infected with Covid-19? What goes through your mind as you go round daily?
Well, I am responsible for all the Isolation facilities. I am responsible for all the welfare of all the patients. So, I have to go round each day. But I exercise due precaution. I can catch it at the Isolation Centre. I can catch it in the public. The virus is everywhere. Many of our health personnel don’t catch it at work. They catch it at home. Because its at home that you have relaxed your guard. When you go home, you relax yourself. But somebody can come into your house with the virus and you catch it. So, I do my best. If I get it, I get it. If I don’t I thank God.
Why is the government not carrying our traditional healers along to look at possible things they can contribute to tackling the menace of Covid-19?
We are. We have a Traditional Medicine Board. We even have a Traditional Medicine Research Committee. They are part of the Covid-19 Research Agenda. We are looking at Traditional therapies in terms of what part of our natural diets will boost your immune system, which would maybe make your course milder. We are looking for Traditional therapies that will damage the virus, and help us treat it. But as you know, Research takes a long time and you can’t say this herbal concoction works unless you put it through what we call Clinical Trials.
So, our traditional medicine practitioners are developing their idea of what herbal concoction they should use and we hope they will come up with something. But it still needs to put through the process of a clinical trial.
Some people are talking of a 2nd wave abroad. Will that affect us here in any way?
2nd wave is a natural phenomenon. If a viral outbreak is able to infect a small number of your population and you bring it under control, it can always come back into that same community and affect the people that were not infected because they are not protected. Let’s say in Lagos, we get a 10% population infected, it means 90% have not been infected, so when we bring it under control, it goes down. Then, somebody else re-introduces it. Another traveller can come in from another state or somebody from inside the same community can take it again to another state to the remaining 90% and then you will see the same outbreak over and over again. So, we talk about waves. But with every wave, you are increasing the number of people in that community that you will infect and therefore you are reducing the number of vulnerable people to the virus. Eventually, the attitude of the waves get smaller until it finally diminishes. It could be that in Lagos we are experiencing a number of waves. It is just difficult to find out where the waves are. And because Lagos is big you could have waves in different local governments at different levels of maturity. Eventually what happens is the environment becomes resistant to the infection by virtue of the population becoming immune from infection.
So, when you get infected you develop immunity or sometimes, the virus weakens itself and just burns out. We haven’t experienced that here yet. But one of those things could happen.
Can we come up with projections as to when we would have Covid-19 going away from the society?
Well, it is difficult. We felt that our first peak will be in August. Until we have done some community studies, we can’t tell how many people in the community have been infected. When we get that evidence, which we are trying to do now, then it will give us more information to put into our module and then we can then extrapolate from that module to say whether we are going to peak and flatten out for X number of months before we go down and are we going to get a 2nd wave after that. Until we get some relevant data, we can’t make that prediction yet.
What has been your experience working with the incident commander in Lagos, Gov. Sanwo-Olu? How do you see his efforts?
I couldn’t have a better governor under these circumstances. He is totally involved. He does his own research. He listens to everything that we tell him. He understands it very quickly. He has his own ways of going about achieving results. He is committed. He applies a different methodology. I am a Medical Doctor. He is a strategist. He is an Economist. So, he applies his own understanding of Economics and Strategy to the response. There is something that he imparts into me and there is something that I impart into him and collectively we make decisions which so far seem to have been working. Of course, let me add that we make that decision collectively within the EXCO, the Executive arm of the government which is the Cabinet. All the decisions that we make is a collective decision. Lagos is run by the Executive. I advise. He is the Incident Commander. He makes the final decisions. And so far, it has been tremendous. It has been simply a pleasure working with the Incident Commander.
Many people want to know why the Churches and Mosques are still closed?
There are a number of problems. So, 1st of all the main issue is that a lot of older people go to church and to the Mosque so we are very worried because the older generation are the more vulnerable. The virus likes people who are over the age of 60. That is one issue. Then 2, if you open the schools, the children can go to school and catch it. They are usually Mild and Asymptomatic but they go home. Daddy & Mummy may be old, Grandpa & Grandma may be old, so that is just a way of bringing the virus into the home and making the vulnerable members of the population at risk.
That is just one consideration. And of course, there are congregations. The virus likes congregations. A school is a congregation. A Church, a Mosque is a congregation. That is how the virus spreads in the congregation. So, we want to be very careful about How and When we define when that opening will be and in what form it will be. So that we make it as safe as possible.
What role has fear got to play in all of these?
We are experiencing a Covid-19 psychosis at the moment. I mean generally, all over the world, people are very fearful. All you have to do to get fearful is to sit in front of your television and you will see fearful images. I must say that Fear & Public Anxiety and Stigma are all part of the phenomenon. And we must address it. Whilst we are trying to send out correct messaging to people to be cautious and to take precautions, we must be careful not to overdo it because in overdoing it, you can exacerbate The Fear Factor and the anxiety in the community and that may lead to heightened stigmatisation. So, it is a Balance and we must find that Balance.