The novel coronavirus is on the rampage, wreaking havoc across the world. Leaders across the world including Nigeria are taking all measures necessary to stop the spread of the virus; as scientists are working hard to discover medicines for the cure and prevention of the Covid-19 disease. Our political leaders and medical personnel are doing their best to protect us from the virus; so they need solidarity from all Nigerians to weather the Covid-19 storm. The solidarity should be expressed through the things we say, do, and the claims we make, strictly avoiding falsehood and misinformation.
Covid-19 has exposed the good, the bad and the ugly in all of us Nigerians. The good is that our leaders like other world leaders are doing everything necessary to protect the citizens from the pandemic. The bad is that some Nigerians are wallowing in ignorance, especially those who dwell in fake news, thereby ignoring government warnings and instructions. The ugly is that our health sector is one of the worst in the world. By the special grace of God Almighty, we will overcome the coronavirus epidemic; but this is a wake-up call for Nigeria to strive for self-reliant especially in health care, food and other essential commodities/services. Furthermore, this is the time to reflect on basic hygiene, clean water and sanitation. We should also say no to lies, fraudulent claims and fake news.
In Nigeria, we are following the two critical recommendations viz non-pharmaceutical interventions, that is, things to do when you don’t have drugs; and intervention labeled “suppression”. The non-pharmaceutical involves only advice constantly reiterated today: social distancing, washing hands, coughing into elbows, staying home when sick. None alone provides great protection, but the hope is that if most people follow most of the advice most of the time, the interventions would significantly reduce the spread of the disease, or “flatten the curve,” a phrase now all too familiar. This may sound simple, but it is not. As with a diet, people know what to eat but often stray; here straying can kill. So, we should do our best to adhere.
The suppression intervention includes identifying infected people, isolating them, tracing contacts and asking contacts to self-quarantine. Because its incubation period is long, it allows us time. Whether we use that time well will determine our failure or success in the fight against the virus. We must cooperate with the authorities and report all suspected cases. Time is of the essence. Rapid identification reduces risk by enabling infected persons to be isolated and given appropriate clinical care. For interventions to work, people have to comply and they have to sustain that compliance; most of that depends on voluntary efforts and individual behaviour.
Our penchant for self-medication should be drastically reduced, if not completely eliminated to avoid complicating the situation. Self-medication increases the possibility of drug abuse and drug dependency. It also masks the signs and symptoms of underlying diseases, hence complicating the problem, creating drug resistance, and delaying diagnosis.
The sale of both over the counter (OTC) and prescription drugs by petty traders and roadside hawkers is very common in Nigeria. In Nigeria, there are many unregistered patent medicine stores/pharmacies from which people purchase drugs from unknown sources.
We should also be wary of false claims with regard to discovery of medicine for coronavirus. The impact of half-truths, hoaxes and misleading health information can be life-threatening, ranging from misapplication of funds to misdiagnosis and death. Health misinformation in Nigeria varies from “cruel hoaxes” such as drinking saltwater to cure Ebola, to general misperceptions about causes of disease, mode of transmission and available treatment. In the early 2000s, rumours of polio vaccines being a tool to reduce the population went viral and set back polio elimination by many years. Adverts for over-the-counter drugs such as those for the treatment of malaria, headaches, common cold and worm infections contain oversimplification, which could misinform an uncritical audience. Social media makes the situation worse by spreading false health rumours.
There have been cases of Nigerian scientists claiming to have invented what was not entirely innovative or totally true. However, there are also smart Nigerians who have made genuine innovative discoveries in various fields.
Any drug development process must proceed through several stages in order to produce a product that is safe, efficacious, and has passed all regulatory requirements. Scientists determine the drug’s stability—in the formulation itself, and for all the parameters involved with storage and shipment, such as heat, light, and time. The formulation must remain potent and sterile; and it must also remain safe (nontoxic).
Practicing scientists are guided by the principles of science and the standard practices of their particular scientific discipline as well as their personal moral principles. Because scientists and the achievements of science have earned the respect of society at large, the behaviour of scientists must accord not only with the expectations of scientific colleagues, but also with those of a larger community. As science becomes more closely linked to economic and political objectives, the processes by which scientists formulate and adhere to responsible research practices will be subject to increasing public scrutiny. So, scientists must be careful with what they put out to the public and the claims they make.
Nothing can be done to stop people from sharing whatever catches their fancy, but news organisations and people who give thought to the health of truth and to accuracy and credible information have an ever-present responsibility to do due diligence by verifying too-good-to-be-true claims on social media and by offering credible counter-narratives to false news.
With Covid-19, many people infected with the novel coronavirus don’t show any symptoms for days. That means there is no way to tell who in the community is contagious. So the only way to protect yourself and others is by limiting unnecessary contact. Every infection that isn’t spread makes us all safer.