NIGERIAN health officials have shot holes in an ambitious plan to recall thousands of diasporans back home warning that the country does not have enough isolation centres to accommodate such a huge influx of people who could be coronavirus positive.
Over recent weeks, Nigerian missions abroad have been asked to step up plans to evacuate citizens who wish to return to the country from abroad. Under the arrangement, anyone returning from aboard on board specially chartered flights which will be used for the exercise, will be placed in quarantine for 14 days and only allowed home after they have been tested and certified as negative.
However, health officials have warned that the proposal is fraught with problems as Nigeria does not have enough isolation centres to accommodate such a large influx of diasporans. Foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama, has himself accepted that the evacuation plan may now not be realistic as anyone returning will need to be kept in isolation for 14 days.
Mr Onyeama said: “We have received the numbers from our various embassies around the world and are collating them. Then, we will select two airlines that will be responsible for going to fetch them.
“The numbers are high and the places where we can isolate them are not enough for those numbers, so, we will have to do it in a targeted fashion. Together with the National Emergency Management Agency and the health ministry, we will have to come to an agreement to be bringing them back according to the number of beds and other things that are available.”
He also warned Nigerians against stigmatising patients and survivors of coronavirus, which is now becoming commonplace across Nigeria. Mr Onyeama expressed concerns about this leading to a possible exponential increase in infection rates as many of those with the symptoms would prefer to remain in their closets, rather than step forward for evaluation and treatment.
Health minister Dr Osagie Ehanire, added: “The Covid-19 outbreak has provoked social stigma and discrimination against anyone thought to have been in contact with the virus as well as people of certain backgrounds. This negative association means those with the disease, their caregivers, family, friends and communities, are labelled, stereotyped, discriminated against and treated poorly because of a disease.
“Unfortunately, stigma can prompt social isolation of persons or groups and drives people to hide the illness, prevents them from seeking health care immediately, and discourages them from adopting healthy behaviours. This could cause a situation where the virus is more likely to spread and increase the difficulty of controlling the Covid-19 outbreak.
“We must not stigmatise persons who have recovered from Covid-19. Our national testing capacity has been increased to 3,000 per day in 13 molecular laboratories nationwide activated by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.”