NIGERIAN health officials have raised the alarm that members of the public have resorted to scouring rubbish dumps in search of facemasks which they can then sell on as their demand grows in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Like every other nation on earth, Nigeria is facing a threat to its health from the Covid-19 pandemic and the government has introduced a number of safeguards to contain its spread. One of the government’s guidelines is that facemasks should be worn in public and as a result of this, there has been a huge surge in demand.
With supply lagging way behind demand, poor Nigerians have resorted to scouring rubbish dumps for discarded facemasks, which they then wash and sell. Boss Mustapha, the secretary to the federal government and the chairman of the presidential Covid-19 task force, has warned that this dangerous practice would worsen the spread of the coronavirus pandemic across the country.
He also said northern state governments, which had been evacuating Quranic school pupils, popularly known as Almajirais, to their states of origin should suspend the programme for now. Across northern Nigeria, these unemployed youths are being deported back to their states of origin and in the process, are spreading the virus.
Health minister Dr Osagie Ehanire said pathologists from several northern states, including Sokoto, Bauchi, Jigawa, Katsina and Kano had been trained to examine the recent surge in deaths in these states. It is believed that the recent spike is due to the activities of the Almajiris, who are travelling around with no protection whatsoever.
Of late, most Nigerians have ignored government health guidelines aimed at controlling the spread of the pandemic, including the compulsory use of facemasks and maintaining social distance in public places. The government also banned a gathering of over 20 people and interstate movements and a ban on inter-state travel.
Mr Mustapha said: “The unhealthy practice of picking disposed masks for whatever purpose is harmful to both the individual picking them and whoever procures them later. The presidential task force has become aware of the ongoing practice of sharing masks and picking of masks for recycling from dump sites.
“This places a lot of responsibility on all of us to be self-educated and to educate others. Except for fabric masks, every disposable used mask is a hazardous medical waste and should be disposed of properly, preferably by burning. It is very risky to share masks as the virus is capable of remaining on surfaces for several hours and you could get infected.”
On May 2, the Kaduna State government said 21 out of 61 Almajiris deported to the state from Kano tested positive for the virus. Besides, some of the children are being hidden in vehicles carrying food and there are fears that they could contaminate it.