This is a wrong time to be sick. Especially if you are over sixty five years old with ‘underlining conditions’. That means if you are diabetic, hypertensive, asthmatic or if your vital organs are working sub-optimally. And rare is the person at that age who doesn’t have an underlining condition – from the mild to the serious; the benign to the malignant.

It is after all, an age when the vital organs slow down and some need special attention before they pack up altogether. Some know the extent of their ailment and bend the ears of physicians from time to time. Many however live in ignorance and denial, sometimes turning to church because the health care system is grossly inadequate.

This is the group that has been asked to stay at home – and wisely too – because COVID 19 which is currently ravaging the world is brutal with people with fragile immunity and fragile vital organs. But surely, the advice of government and of NCDC for these people to stay home is not a directive to wait for a slow but inevitable death.

This is what it looks like now with all eyes focused on the pandemic to the exclusion of almost everything else. As it is, many people are reluctant to go to the hospital unless it is unavoidable.

And the hospitals are not welcoming. Many are in fact, discouraging. We need to remind ourselves that there were ailments before this pandemic and they cause death if not attended to. In fact, they are causing more deaths in the developing world than the pandemic despite the focus and resources spent on COVID.

Although not limited to them, many of these ailments reside with those who are sixty five and above. These people are not receiving the attention and treatment they need. This endangered group is being tossed two unfavourable faces of a coin. Heads it loses; tails it loses.

This group is damned if it goes out and damned if it stays at home. Going out makes it susceptible to COVID. Staying home makes it susceptible to a badly treated underlining disease. In a season where many ailments are first thought to be COVID, many people are dying needlessly.

These days, any patient with a high temperature, or a breathing problem is first sent to the lab for testing without any attempt to stabilise them. Unfortunately, no heart attack will wait for the 48 hours it will take for the test to be out. These days, even a patient with a common asthma will die even if they make it to the hospital on time because the hospital would most likely reject them.

I know people who have died in the past two weeks because the hospitals have been too stretched, or the frontline health workers too unwilling to take them in.

As an aside, I once made a joke at a pharmacy when the temperature gun was pointed at me. I told the guy that if I wasn’t ill I would not be coming to the pharmacy to buy drugs. So to turn me back at a pharmacy because I had a temperature could be preventing me from treating malaria, typhoid or even a toothache.

I am not a doctor and I could be wrong, but I think the body first reacts to most ailments with an increase in temperature. My point is that whether it is COVID or not, an ailment is meant to be treated and sending people in critical conditions away for testing without stabilising them is like sending them away to die.

I am referring more to the Teaching and General Hospitals than private hospitals. So many things are now known about COVID 19 that were not known in February or even March. It is still a brutal virus and there are talks of even more brutal strains. But its nature and preventionare better known today. So is the treatment.

And emerging evidence shows that countries that have fared better in containing the virus are those which have allowed discipline, science and the peculiarities of their people to hold sway in designing their course of action. It is now known that wearing face masks not only prevents others from getting it from you, it also prevents you from getting it.

I had always reasoned that if everybody wore a face mask, then the virus would gradually die because it would have nowhere to go. Face masks are cheap. Far cheaper than the cost of even a simple treatment. Unfortunately, most people are too ignorant or too indulgent to adhere to the simple habit of using a face mask. I call it the high cost of indiscipline.

The minute my estate for example, announced that wearing face masks was compulsory within the estate, some expatriates complained loudly.

They claimed they should be allowed to be free within the estate after wearing face masks all day in the office. Yet nobody is controlling what they do inside their apartments. Only in the common areas. Medical doctors have been wearing surgical masks for years during surgeries which last several hours at a stretch and none to the best of my limited knowledge, died of asphyxiation or carbon dioxide poisoning.

I recently watched a video of some white, elderly Americans saying wearing masks was against the will of God and an infringement on their personal liberty. One elderly lady said the reason she wouldn’t wear a facemask is the same reason she doesn’t wear any underwear because she wants everything to breathe the way God intended it.

We all know the cost America is paying for this indiscipline, this indulgence, this unenlightened self-interest. A nation that should lead the rest of the world in containing the pandemic is neither leading nor following. She is in fact lost. Speaking of indiscipline, I can’t understand why people will enter the bank wearing facemasks and remove them in the banking hall where they are most needed.

Nigeria would fare a lot better in her fight against COVID 19 if she could have the will and the discipline to enforce the wearing of facemasks by everybody. And given our acute shortage of hospital space, I would urge CDC to publicise basic, off the counter drugs for treating mild cases in self isolation.

That would be in line with the peculiarities of our situation. After all, thanks to this method, every family knows how to treat malaria, cold, flu etc. without necessarily visiting the hospital…..until symptoms persist. That is the Nigerian way.


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