COVID-19: ITS TIME TO SAFEGUARD THE RURAL COMMUNITIES FROM INFECTION

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Corona virus pandemic is one not in a hurry to leave the scene any time soon. Unfortunately, it has like others before it come to stay. No disease is completely eradicated from the face of the earth. Various kinds of drugs are produced and made readily available to manage it and its attendant consequences. For this one, we only work and pray for quick breakthroughs in solutions and remedies arising from both conventional medical and herbal practices. It may endure but certainly, there will be light at the end of the tunnel. However, humanity must begin to learn how to live with this stark reality of our time. As Nigeria and other nations battle this common enemy of the world, undivided attention has been paid to the city centres and its inhabitants to the detriment of the poor and vulnerable rural communities. Cash donations, provision of emergency health infrastructure, testing and isolation centres, timely and constant dissemination of news and information and sundry supports from corporate bodies and wealthy individuals are majorlly on going in the cities.
Granted that according to World Bank report on collection of development indicators (2018), 50.34 % of the Nigerian population dwell in the cities while 49.66% live in slums. Bearing in mind the fact that the nation was adjudged to have the highest poverty index level in the world, adequate proactive measures to stem the rising tide of the virus in rural and vulnerable communities should be urgently put in place. The rural poor in Nigeria have had enough challenges and difficulties they grapple with already. Consigning them to their usual routine of hellish suffering even in this difficult time without any definite rescue plan is to say the least heartless. The only visible benefit extended to the rural poor communities in my estimation had been the poorly and awfully managed food palliatives provided by most state governments after almost two months of lockdown. One wonders why the states have remained silent on providing more interventions and welfare packages for their people as if the divided tubers of yam and one piece of Indomie Superpack some people suffered to get have become the ever increasing barrel of flour in the case of Elisha and the Biblical woman of Zarephat.
I have no doubt in my mind that COVID-19 like every other diseases with the propensity to defy boundaries is on its way to if not already in rural communities. Time to safeguard the rural populace from infection is now. Prevention they commonly say is better than cure. The alarm raised by Melinda Bill Gates on the possibility of finding dead bodies on the street of Africa if necessary measures are not taken to contain the disease and the admonition of the Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on the likely ugly African scenario should not be taken for granted. According to Gates, ” the pandemic will make Africa have dead bodies lying on the streets. Covid-19 will be horrible in the developing world. My heart is in Africa. I am worried. The only reason why the reported cases of the corona virus disease in Africa is low now is most likely because there have not been wide testing of people. The disease is going to bite hard on the continent. I see dead bodies in the streets of Africa,” Melinda said. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Ethiopian director-general urged Africa to “wake up” to the increasing threat. The best advice for Africa is to prepare for the worst and prepare today.”
Government said the nation has transited to ‘community transmission level’ of the pandemic. Being at the community stage implied that infections have now migrated to contacts within ones environment. If countries like America, Europe and China could be overwhelmed and devastated by the virus, the scorching effect on Africa and definitely Nigeria with little or no basic medical facilities, high slum settlements, poor hygienic practices and low literacy level is sure to be largely devastating. I have heard and seen federal and state government plans and interventions but nobody talks specifically in definite terms about local government areas and poor vulnerable rural communities. At community level most people are either oblivious of the danger lurking around while a few in the know have resigned their faith to God and only wait for the worse to happen. The nation is a living testimony of the careless wine tapper who falls and breaks his spine before taking precautionary measures. Local government areas in Nigeria which are close to the people and set up to address issues and challenges emanating therefrom remain unfazed adults who when hungry are forcefully breast fed by their aged mothers, the states.
COVID-19 like HIV-AIDS is real despite ones school of thought. The pandemic has exposed the holes in our preparedness for emergency situations and the reality of the dearths of health infrastructure all over the nation. In fact, little or no attention was paid to core areas of governance over the years. Therefore, as a matter of urgency government has to figure out ways to avail citizens especially in the rural areas the opportunity of health infrastructure for management of the disease. In the face of the pandemic, how do we plan for the safety and survival of the rural communities? Apart from the efforts to safeguard the entire country, there should be a special, deliberate and urgent containment plan of COVID-19 for the local governments and their rural communities. First, provision of more palliatives such as food items, hand sanitisers, portable water, test Kits, hygiene and sanitary packs. Second, the moribond community health extension system should be urgently resuscitated. The workers and other volunteers should be well trained on ways to handle affected Covid-19 patients. Knowledge is power. Third, information is key. Suffice it to say that information on preventive measures should be at the disposal of communities made available in local dialects. Traditional and conventional media platforms should be aggressively deployed to reach out to the publics with well tailored contents and messages. Fourth, religious, traditional institutions and family heads should be the drivers and purveyors of information sharing and knowledge management.
With the mistakes already made and lessons learned in the course of fighting the pandemic, the rural communities could be safeguarded and saved from the raging trauma through the right approaches and thinking. We should make hay while the sun shines.
Sunday Onyemaechi Eze, a media and communication specialist is the publisher: thenewinsightng.blogspot.com. He writes via sunnyeze02 @yahoo.com and could be reached on 08060901201

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