IN THE EYE OF THE STORM

Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu

DG, NCDC

Until this morning, Friday the 28th of February 2020, not too many Nigerians were bothered about the activities of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC. That all changed when we awoke to the sudden and rather unpleasant news that the dreaded Covid-19 (better known as Corona virus) had made its way into the country.

As the name of the agency implies, it is meant to, well, control the spread of diseases. Lassa fever, spread by rats, comes and goes every other couple of years. It’s been on the prowl lately but Nigerians have low-key gotten used to its existence. Ebola came and went, taking with it one of Nigeria’s finest in the person of Dr. Stella Adadevoh, who literally sacrificed herself to stop the virus from spreading when she held the infected patient back in her hospital. And now, this virus with the pretty name (there’s a Toyota brand I remember from way back) has struck.

One would expect Nigerians to be reasonably optimistic about the country’s capacity for handling this considering how Ebola was contained but that doesn’t seem to be the case. A number of pessimists have made their doubts loudly known particularly on social media but there really is very little cause for alarm.

Take the Director General of the NCDC for instance, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu.  Let’s examine his credentials. The man is an infectious disease epidemiologist with over 20 years’ experience in senior public health and leadership positions in several international Public Health Institutes. These include the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the UK’s Health Protection Agency, and Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI). He was the Acting Director of the Regional Centre for Disease Control for West Africa till January 2018. Dr Ihekweazu is said to have led several short-term engagements for the World Health Organization (WHO), mainly in response to major infectious disease outbreaks around the world.

Then of course you have his sterling academic profile. A graduate of the College of Medicine, University of Nigeria, he also holds a Masters in Public Health (MPH) from the Heinrich-Heine University, Dusseldorf, Germany. In 2003, he was awarded a Fellowship for the European Programme for Intervention Epidemiology Training (EPIET) and subsequently completed his Public Health specialisation in the UK. He is widely published in medical peer review journals (NCDC online).

“Nature” a research journal has only accolades for the good doctor. Since assuming office as DG, Dr. Ihekweazu has increased the number of staff at the agency, established molecular-biology labs across the country and is said to be managing a number of multimillion-dollar grants intended for just such a situation as we are currently in. Under his supervision, the agency has already managed approximately a dozen outbreaks, said to have infected more than 70,000 people.

With a man of such outstanding credentials in control, all Nigerians need to do is avoid PANIC.

Let’s stay calm. Stay clean. Wash our hands. Touch our faces less…and trust that the state will do right by us again.

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