Why Nigeria Is Vulnerable To ‘Disease X’

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Medical experts have warned that the absence of a legal instrument in the fight to contain COVID-19 makes Nigeria vulnerable to another pandemic, especially ‘Disease X’ which was predicted by the World Health Organisation (WHO). According to medical experts, with COVID-19 still ever-present as the world enters the third wave of breakouts, another threat is looming over humanity, which could become the next pandemic. Scientists at WHO is worried that the so-called ‘Disease X’ could cause another epidemic in the next few years. Each year, WHO instructs a committee of experts to update its list of the most threatening infectious diseases that lack effective treatment or vaccines. Medical experts are concerned that although there is hope that with the COVID-19 vaccine being rolled out around the world will see that type of coronavirus disappear, a ‘Disease X’ could be just around the corner, which could weaken the world’s population and economy even more than COVID-19 did. Indeed, ‘Disease X’ is what the WHO calls the next yet unnamed disease, which could cause a new global pandemic, and after being caught cold regarding COVID-19, scientists do not want history to repeat itself. The medical experts are, however, unanimous that legislation specifically addressing issues of public health capacity of the state, for improved prevention, easy detection, prompt response to infectious diseases threats and improve outcomes is imperative for strategic positioning of the country to combat the incidences of pandemic diseases. Unfortunately, the only piece of legislation on infectious disease control in Nigeria is the ‘outdated’ Quarantine Act of 1926. However, despite several attempts by the two chambers of the National Assembly to repeal the 96-year-old Quarantine Act, they have not made much progress. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, told The Guardian that every outbreak and indeed every pandemic presents an opportunity to learn significant lessons so that we are better prepared for future outbreaks. Ihekweazu, who is also an epidemiologist, said: “We have learned that we need stronger legislation to guide Nigeria’s preparedness and response to pandemics. While the NCDC had the mandate to lead Nigeria’s preparedness and response to infectious disease outbreaks, the response to pandemics as we have seen with COVID-19 is multi-sectoral. Therefore, we need a legal framework that recognises this.” Do you think that the provisions of the bills are adequate to better prepare the country to prevent and contain future pandemics? Ihekweazu said the distinguished members of the 9th House of Assembly have engaged various groups including technical agencies like NCDC, in developing the Public Health Bill. “We have contributed to its content based on our experience and expertise. The availability of a Bill is a significant step for pandemic preparedness but is not the silver bullet. Without enforcement of the regulations and adequate investment in health security, we will not be prepared for future pandemics,” he noted. What is the global practice in terms of providing legislation for epidemics and pandemics control? The NCDC said strong laws and institutions are essential for countries to prepare for and respond to outbreaks and pandemics. He said in most countries, these are consistent with the best scientific evidence available, and importantly, respect human rights. “We also need buy-in across various levels of governments, especially in countries like Nigeria,” Ihekweazu. What are your recommendations in terms of global best practice? Ihekweazu said: “We need a stronger legal framework that enables a coordinated multi-sectoral response to pandemics in Nigeria. In addition, we cannot afford to wait till pandemics happen before we begin to establish laboratories, contact tracing system and other structures needed for pandemic response. Therefore, components of such a framework should enable access to resources for the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, given our mandate for outbreak preparedness and response.”

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