As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues sweeping through nations, the absence of any licensed medication or vaccine to prevent and check the spread of the virus has made its impact worse. At the onset of the pandemic, there were claims that Africans were more resistant to the virus than people from other continents – a lie of course. However, few months later we witnessed African States battle with the rapid spread of the disease, one which has led to rising numbers of covid-19 related deaths, particularly in Nigeria.
On 27th February, 2020, the first Nigerian covid-19 death was confirmed and since then, the Nigerian populace has received daily reports on the teeming figures of the coronavirus recoveries and deaths. An assessment of the daily official counts being presented by the Nigeria Centre for Disease and Control (NCDC) leaves room to believe that these figures may not be entirely accurate and could have been underreported, especially the death toll.
Deaths linked to covid-19 are steadily rising and while most reported cases of the coronavirus were discovered during testing and addressed through timely medical attention to save the patients, some other deaths have occurred without anyone knowing that the sufferers died from the virus. The initial scepticism about the existence of the coronavirus and ignorance of asymptomatic transmission have increased susceptibility to the coronavirus and ultimately claimed more lives. For instance in Gombe state, covid-19 patients while protesting against mistreatment at the state’s teaching hospital also said that they seemed physically healthy and did not feel like they had the virus.
In Nigeria, dealing with the pandemic has proved challenging because apart from the problem of ignorance, misinformation and the spread of fake news about the virus through online platforms have contributed to many deaths. Various audio and video recordings have encouraged people to stay at home and indulge in self-treatment, should they exhibit symptoms of the coronavirus. Also, with countries racing towards securing a cure for the dreaded disease, different treatment methods are being suggested to Nigerians. Examples of these are the Madagascar formula and other forms of traditional medication.
Another reason the covid-19 death toll report in Nigeria could be inaccurate is due to insufficient testing. Many Nigerians had initially complained about not being able to get tested; following the scarcity of test kits, ventilators and some isolation centres being empty. When testing eventually became more accessible, some people had chosen the option of self-medication at home. The fear of stigmatization and complete mistrust in the efficacy of the Nigerian healthcare system are also contributory factors to the decision of home treatment. The initial release of the names of people receiving treatment in some isolation centres without their consent may have also discouraged people from getting help, for fear that they would be stigmatized for having contracted the virus. There are also reports of people who complained about the shabby treatment they received at isolation centres which they felt should have been more sympathetic towards their plight. The sad reality remains that till date, not everyone who has the virus has been able to get tested.
While covid-19 death reports mostly cover unusually and severely ill people who tested positive in a hospital or isolation centre, other related deaths may have occurred in different circumstances. For some, they died at home and were buried without ascertaining if the true cause of death was coronavirus related or not. The next group are those who may not have exhibited signs of having the virus but later died from it, while there are people who showed visible symptoms but delayed getting tested till they reached the point of death. Some other patients had the virus, were misdiagnosed and later died after using the wrong medication. The last group are those who suffered depreciating health conditions caused by covid-19 during the imposed lockdown order and were unable to get their regular medication, the event of which led to their deaths.
On several occasions, the data released by NCDC has been challenged by members of the public who feel that the figures may not be an adequate representation of the appropriate numbers of the coronavirus instances in the country. The confirmation of erroneous report on the covid-19 confirmed cases in Ekiti State in April by the NCDC may not have helped matters as it appears that there is the possibility to underreport the real numbers amidst the presumption that only severe coronavirus cases are being tested and reported.
Health care workers are also at risk of contracting the virus and due to the overwhelming burden placed on the Nigerian healthcare system, some hospitals have cracked under the pressure of overcrowding and incessant hospital visits. Some healthcare workers have died from the virus too, in the course of their daily service to humanity. Since the virus gained momentum in Nigeria, many hospitals have shut down because their staff members got infected with coronavirus. Along with the pandemic also came the call for a strike by Nigerian doctors who protested against non- provision of personal protective equipment and hazard pay by government.
Although there is no exact proof confirming that the coronavirus incidents are being underreported, there is a strong likelihood that this could be the case. In April, attention was drawn to the heavy numbers of deaths in Kano where many people died within a short time. Grave-diggers in Kano also reported to the local media that they were burying more bodies than expected, in spite of the few numbers of covid- 19 patients which the state was reporting at the time.
In comparison to diseases like the Ebola and Influenza, the coronavirus pandemic currently has no licensed cure. The ability of the virus to rapidly spread amongst people, combined with the asymptomatic nature of some affected carriers have contributed to the difficulty in getting accurate statistics. While some people were lucky to have recovered from the virus, this has not been the case for others who died from it. Presently, it is doubtful that we will ever know the true numbers of covid-19 death incidents in Nigeria. However, it is painful where deaths are reduced to mere statistical figures and worse where a coronavirus related death is wrongly registered, inaccurately recorded or goes unreported.