By Abdulkabir Olatunji
Nigeria like most countries of the world is faced with an epic battle with the novel coronavirus, Covid-19. So far, the main strategy of the federal and many state governments is to initiate some sort of lockdown and try to test those that have strong symptoms and those that might have had contact with those confirmed positive with the virus.
Now, there is an undesirable consequence of this attempt to fight Covid-19 which is that the economy is practically grounded with millions of Nigerians that earn a daily income struggling to feed during the lockdown. To mitigate this and other undesirable consequences, it is important for us to initiate a system that allows us to rapidly identify those that have been infected or those that might be at a high risk of infection.
I propose that the federal and state governments invest heavily in call centres. Telecom companies and banks could be encouraged to make available staff of their call centres as well. Now, each of the call centre agents involved in this Covid-19 service would be trained to evaluate anybody calling with parameters that might indicate an individual is infected with the virus. Because a considerable part of our population especially in urban centres are tech savvy, web and mobile apps to replicate the call centre options can be used as well. I believe Kogi state is already using a form of this sort of app.
Citizens that suspect they are infected can have easier access to this preliminary screening to the call centres or app and those with high index of suspicion can be quickly identified and tested while urged to immediately self-isolate themselves. In addition, family and friends or neighbours of people suspected to be infected can also call the expanded call centres to give information and the symptoms they are observing in potential Covid-19 patients and their location. Field health workers that have been properly trained can then make house calls to check and test such suspected cases.
This collaborative and much more “crowdsourced” surveillance and testing regime can help identify cases faster and limit the spread of the coronavirus.
I believe if this is done with dedication over the next 3 weeks, Nigeria can begin to ease the lockdown and get people back to work while the elderly, those with chronic diseases and other vulnerable people can be encouraged to stay home because of the fact that they are at higher risk.
This process can be maintained until the number of those infected becomes negligible and we can hopefully return to the similitude of normalcy.