The Chairman, Senate Committee on Primary Healthcare and Communicable Diseases, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, has lamented that Nigeria lacks “adequate response mechanism” to handle disease outbreaks.

Utazi spoke during an oversight visit of the Senate Committee on Health to the Port Health Services at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport and the Apapa Seaport in Lagos on Friday.

He said it was worrisome the country put in so much energy in fighting disease outbreaks rather than putting in place mechanisms to prevent the outbreaks.

He said, “We don’t have adequate response mechanism in handling eventuality of an outbreak in this country and that is what we just confirmed during our visits to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport and Apapa Seaport.

“It is unfortunate that we have to wait until we have an issue before working on how to curtail it. That doesn’t help us to achieve any solution to the health needs of our people. Taking it forward from here, we will go back to the drawing board; we have to stop this ‘fire brigade approach’  to solving our problems. There must be permanent structures to solve our problems, whether we have outbreaks or not. We must put all the necessary things in place at all the points of entry.”

The senator also stressed the need for port officials to be trained in line with international best practices.

 The Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe, said the visit had exposed the gaps in the country’s points of entry.

He said, “From what we have seen at the airport and the seaport in Lagos, it shows that we have a lot of gaps that need to be filled for us to say we are prepared for any eventuality.

“The gaps include human resources, especially health workers, at the airport and seaport. At the port health located at MMIA, we have one doctor, and at the port health at Apapa Seaport no doctor is there.

“We also have equipment deficit; basic equipment required to provide an immediate response is not available. At Apapa Seaport, they don’t have the mobility to move to inspect vessels.

“Also, we found that the seaport’s port health is not connected to modern technology, which means we are exposed.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation Technical Officer, Health Emergency Programme, Dhamari Naidoo, said after a risk assessment was done, Nigeria was rated high because of frequent travel between Nigeria and China. She noted that the global health agency would focus on nine states that had ports of entry into the country (land, water and air).

They are Lagos, Kano, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Enugu, Delta and Bayelsa states and the Federal Capital territory. She said WHO had activated the coronavirus preparedness working group at the National Centre for Disease Control with representation from the Ministry of Health and other relevant ministries.

Naidoo who spoke in Abuja added that contrary to insinuation, use of cocaine and whiskey had not been scientifically proven to cure coronavirus.

She said, “We are currently working hard to identify isolation points in high risk states. In Abuja, the Teaching Hospital in Gwagwalada has been identified and in Lagos, we have identified the Infectious Diseases Hospital, in Yaba.”

The National Reference Laboratory in Gaduwa, Abuja is working and we are currently working with the University Teaching Hospital in Lagos to get it running this weekend. Overtime we will have more laboratories in the country signaling they are ready to test samples.

In a related development, the world is facing a chronic shortage of gowns, masks, gloves and other protective equipment in the fight against a spreading coronavirus epidemic, World Health Organisation Chief Tedros Ghebreyesus said on Friday.

The UN agency has been sending testing kits, masks, gloves, respirators and gowns to every region, Tedros told the WHO Executive Board in Geneva, according to a News Agency of Nigeria report.

“However, the world is facing a chronic shortage of personnel protective equipment, as you might imagine.

“This afternoon I will be speaking to the pandemic supply chain network to identify the bottlenecks and find solutions and push (for) fairness in distribution of equipment,” he said.