Dear CIB reader,
I am particularly excited about this blog post because it’s been a while I featured a guest. Special thanks to my dear friend, Victor Wezuobu, who reminded me of one of the reasons I started blogging.
Sincerely, putting this together was an amazing learning experience for me because our special guest taught me what it means to be thorough, from the phone interview to editing the draft. Moving forward, I believe I would be a better writer and communicator with all he shared.
I have the honor of introducing Dr. Chidi Onwubiko (C.O), Clinical Fellow, Acute/Intensive/Emergency Physician at LNW University Hospital, London, UK. In this interview, he lets us into his world as a front line health professional working tirelessly in the fight against Corona Virus. Kindly read through.
CIB: In Nigeria, a lot of people dismiss the reality of COVID-19 with narratives such as “government wants to loot funds”, “there is no corona in Nigeria”, “no one I know has corona“. As one who is at the front lines, what are your views concerning the issue of COVID-19 ignorance?
C.O: It is not out of place to dismiss the reality of COVID-19 especially if you are not directly affected as a patient or family/friend of a confirmed case or a health professional managing patients. But it would be a gross mistake if people want to only believe this reality when they or theirs are directly affected by the virus.
There are so many reasons to prove that Corona Virus is real. The virus has been isolated in different parts of the world. It was isolated in Wuhan, China and has been studied over the years before the outbreak. Thousands of people lost their lives due to this virus in China before it spread to other parts of the world. If it is not real, the same viral infection with similar clinical presentations would not be identified across the globe.
Furthermore, Corona Virus has been named due its crown-like shape. This same virus has been diagnosed in patients with similar signs and symptoms in different regions of the world. Nothing else can give more objective reason to believe its reality.
As a Nigerian and gratefully, a health professional, I plead with Nigerians to debunk such baseless narratives like, “the government wants to loot funds’’, ‘’none of my mates has had corona virus’’, “the virus does not kill a black man” etc., because it would be a costly mistake for one to wait for one’s close relative to have the disease before believing. I can assure you that it is not a pleasant experience to have a COVID-19 infection.
I have had the privilege of being at the front lines of the National Health Service (NHS) in one of the busiest hospitals in Europe both as an acute and emergency physician. This has given me the opportunity to diagnose swab positive COVID-19 patients with the attendant signs and symptoms. I have seen some recover and unfortunately, there has been some mortalities too.
It is important to note that Corona Virus is in Nigeria. According to NCDC (Nigeria Centre for Disease Control), over 100 people have lost their lives to this deadly virus. If the laid down precautionary rules are not followed diligently, the most recent increase in death witnessed in Kano State may become a trend. This occurrence in Kano could be attributed to not giving credence to the government’s directives on ways to contain the spread of the virus.
CIB: Do you also deal with such misconceptions in the UK?
C.O: No, there are no similar misconceptions in the UK because people are more informed and there has been optimal level of public enlightenment. Hardly can you see anyone that has not been affected by the Corona Virus, either directly or indirectly. Although in early February, a handful of people made statements like “scientists just want to scare the world”, ‘’Corona Virus is caused by 5G’’, and other sporadic statements when the COVID-19 cases were quite low. However, as the number of cases increased, some people with such misconceptions eventually were affected in one way or the other. This emphasized the reality of COVID-19 to them. In UK, people obey total lockdown orders, observe 2 meters social distancing (stretching your arms at full length sideways), wear the appropriate face masks and are conscious of their safety.
CIB: How has the experience been for you as a doctor since the pandemic set in?
C.O: Having practiced Medicine for nearly a decade now, I have not had any similar experience as we have had during this pandemic. Moreover, I do not think there is anyone in the health sector who has witnessed such great pressure even if one has practiced for over 3 decades.
It’s been a very distressing period and also a learning curve for all health workers everywhere. I would like to state that the pandemic has put us all in uncertain times. Doctors are trained to have full understanding of health conditions and management irrespective of how challenging it may be- from complications, presentations, signs, symptoms, laboratory investigations, medications to side effects of medications. Sadly, we have a common enemy that is not fully understood which has proven to be a difficult situation for all and even more difficult while carrying out our duties. We deal with discomfort while trying to manage our patients, putting on the complete gear of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for a long period of time on a daily basis. It should interest you to know that one cannot wear a particular PPE to see two patients. Donning and duffing must be carried out after seeing each patient.
Psychologically, due to the increase in mortality (both young and old), there are more families we now have to break the sad news of losing one of theirs. COVID-19 patients do not have access to their loved ones, they connect virtually. Even when a loved one passes, you can only share the news through the phone. This is a herculean task because as a doctor, it is expected you break such sad news one on one so that nonverbal cues are picked up in order to empathize appropriately but speaking over the phone leaves you with limited options. This makes it psychologically tasking for the health professional.
As a palliative in the hospital where I work, there is a weekly program initiated to help health professionals through this season. We share our challenges, struggles, psychological needs and sometimes, a clinical psychologist is invited. We also have meditation sessions, the aim is to ease off pressure on health professionals and this has been helpful.
CIB: What proactive steps can the Federal Ministry of Health in Nigeria learn from the UK Health system in containing the spread of the virus?
C.O: I wish to commend the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) for their proactive steps so far in dealing with the urgency of the pandemic although, there is still much to be done because our response so far as a country to this pandemic has been grossly less than average.
I strongly suggest that FMOH steps up at this point in its supervisory role. This is not the time to practice business as usual or a time to allow people live carelessly. It is important to have a general consensus on how to manage the available health facilities vis-a-vis suspected cases and confirmed cases, through developing a guideline protocol. A collaboration with World Health Organizations (WHO), Medical and Dental Consultants’ Association of Nigeria (MDCAN), Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), physicians in private practice, state ministries of health and other relevant stakeholders is highly recommended.
It is unfortunate that a prominent Nigerian who died due to COVID-19 complications was managed in a private hospital in Lagos. People shouldn’t go to where they want to because of their social status rather patients who present with symptoms can be asked to isolate at home or at designated isolation centers which ought to be of standard across the federation. Lagos State Government has been a great model so far and ought to be replicated.
At this point, FMOH ought to:
- Know the testing capacity of NCDC
- Ensure provision of standard waterproof face masks
- Carry out quality training of health professionals on the use of PPE
- Ensure availability and functionality of ventilators in major hospitals across the country.
There is no better time than now to fund the health sector. Isolation centers must be up to standard so that people can be comfortable while on isolation. In Rivers State, a certain nurse who was involved in the management of a deceased COVID-19 confirmed case was reported to have absconded for fear of testing and possible isolation. This can occur when people do not have a full understanding of Corona Virus, testing, isolation and management.
Therefore, a massive public enlightenment about Corona Virus being real, the importance of social distancing and following all precautionary measures should be encouraged. Unfortunately, people are being exposed to erroneous information on a daily basis. For instance, a certain governor who is a Professor of Immunology has been sharing misleading information in his interviews. it’s high time he revisited his knowledge of immunology and vaccination to avoid misguiding citizens.
In conclusion, viruses have been in existence for so many centuries. Viruses cause common cold, diarrhea, HIV, Hepatitis B etc. It is baffling why most people feel Corona Virus Disease is unreal but believe other viral diseases?
Quality training of health workers is essential especially with respect to donning and duffing to avoid health hazards. Here, in the UK, if any health worker develops flu symptoms, he or she goes off work for 7 days. I suggest this should be implemented in Nigeria as well but must not be abused by the health workers.
I commend Barr. Wike for the total lockdown in Rivers State. I understand that the source of livelihood of most people are affected but we cannot be careless with the lives of Nigerians through easing the lockdown. Such strict measures would have been bearable if palliatives are put in place. I implore the Federal Government to have a rethink concerning easing the lockdown. It should be done in stages else there may be disastrous ripple effects.
CIB: What advice would you give everyone, everywhere as we pull through this pandemic?
C.O: Below are my pieces of advice-
- Have the personal conviction that Corona Virus exists.
- Follow the safety measures as instructed by relevant authorities
- Stay home and go out only when it’s necessary.
Dear Reader, I am certain you are better informed by the interview. I believe if we diligently follow all safety tips, in due time COVID-19 would be history.
Please, join me in appreciating the ever meticulous Dr. Onwubiko for the kind acceptance to grant this interview despite his tight schedules.
To all health professionals around the world who are sacrificing their time to ensure we are safe, I say THANK YOU!
Till the next time, don’t forget to keep safe.
PS: Kindly comment and share widely. Thanks.