Before the emergence of the scourge that is now tormenting the entire universe, COVID-19, the world was disposed mainly towards pursuing curative health services. In the under-developed parts of the world in particular, very little was done towards the prevention of the numerous communicable diseases in their midst, especially in the countries of Africa and Asia. In these countries, all that was done was to encourage curative health services alone through the building of hospitals of assorted types, training medics and allied personnel, importing assorted medical equipment and drugs, manufacturing these drugs locally, sponsoring researches on different diseases, et cetera.
No effort was made to train those officers that usually prosecute preventive measures. Each time the politicians mounted the rostrums to canvass for votes from the electorates, they would promise to build one type of hospital and medical clinics where the people would go for the treatment of their ailments; none of the politicians would ever mention what they would do or the structures they would put in place towards the prevention of the numerous communicable diseases that afflict their people, and the sorry situation continued indefinitely.
The result was that those diseases that would have been prevented from attacking the people were allowed to hold sway in these lands and afflicted the people, maim them and, at other times, kill such people. Thus, everybody relied on curative measures alone for sustaining the health of the people. That was really bad for public health. In Nigeria, that situation was what obtained before a United States financial expert of Liberian extraction, the late Patrick Sawyer, brought Ebola disease into Nigeria while seeking a cure. When the disease came and it became clear that the only way out was to embrace preventive measures towards containing its spread among the people since it had no cure, efforts were made, for the first time in the history of the country, to remember and embrace preventive measures in containing the spread of Ebola. In that regard, Nigerians left medication and general curative measures they were used to and which was hitherto emphasised throughout the country and embraced prevention; thus, the hitherto neglected (but most effective and very simple) acts of regular hand-washing with soap, controlled sneezing and coughing, social distancing at events, having two thorough baths every day with soap that should last for at least 120 seconds during each bath, avoiding over-crowding, living in properly ventilated apartments, avoiding contact with body secretions, filing finger and toe nails low always to prevent them from harbouring dirt, germs and lower animals in them, and similar preventive measures were all that the people of Nigeria were required to do to save themselves from Ebola then, as many viral diseases usually did not respond to conventional treatments.
Today, these very simple acts of personal hygiene and environmental cleanliness that nearly everybody had relegated to the background before the Ebola era of 2014 are what every Nigerian is compulsorily required to observe, carry out and undertake in order to save themselves from the global scourge that is called coronavirus that is currently tormenting mankind and sending thousands of the people of all climes to their graves! So, today, the neglected, degraded and relegated simple acts of personal hygiene now hold sway in our midst towards saving mankind, and which goes ahead to actualise the old but neglected cliché which says that, ‘Prevention is better than a cure.’ This is the triumph of personal hygiene aspects and general preventive measures over a cure! Prevention now holds sway for the first time in Nigeria, where the people had been brainwashed and made to believe that their total reliance on curing communicable diseases was all they needed to do to be healthy. This is obviously false and misleading. Health education teaches and assures us that some of our actions and deeds could help us maintain and sustain our individual health and public health in general. This is why it is taught in public health that the health of one man is the health of all.
Today, the people have realized that there are minor, simple and, indeed, very effective preventive measures they can undertake and do on their own to stay away from contracting many communicable diseases instead of contracting such diseases and trying to cure same that may not be possible always. Yes, the people now realize that a majority of the diseases in their midst are no longer treatable and curable, including the dreaded COVID-19 and many other viral diseases, hence they need to embrace preventing the diseases they could prevent through their own efforts, actions and deeds. It is interesting to note that these preventive measures are not only available as we can do them on our own, but they are cheap and affordable, and can be undertaken everywhere whether we are formally educated at any level or not.
So, through the simple act of observance of personal hygiene aspects, Ebola disease spread was, in particular, contained and stopped from spreading in the country in 2014; it was not stopped by those who treated diseases but through the easy acts of avoiding handshakes and body contacts, application of hand sanitizers, and rehydrating the body through drinking portable water at intervals; avoiding over-crowding always, ensuring that our dwelling places are properly ventilated and fly-proofed among those listed before now, and similar ‘minor’ preventive measures that cost little or nothing. Through observing these simple hygiene rules, Ebola was removed from Nigeria.
As the people of the world battle COVID-19 and seek an end to the existence of this pandemic that has already had a devastating effect on the people of the world, it becomes imperative that all those who relegate preventive measures should have a rethink now and realize that as we do all to cure communicable diseases in our midst, we must do anything we can also to encourage the prevention of these communicable diseases in our midst. Ebola, Lassa fever and now, coronavirus, have clearly shown that we should not continue to rely on curative health services alone and expect to be free from diseases in the world.
In this sphere, our Port Health Services must never be neglected again.
This means that the right calibres health professionals must man our sea and air ports effectively the way they should be manned, and the health activities in these ports not politicised the way environmental sanitation services have been dangerously politicised in the various states today to the detriment of public health. The professional rivalry existing among the different categories of health professionals must be discouraged. No category must lay claim to be able to guarantee the people good health. Preventive and curative measures must always be harnessed alongside each other towards realizing the health of the people. Already, Ebola, Lassa fever and COVID-19 have clearly shown that the people can be healthy also be preventing diseases in their midst as we cure same.
Akoma writes from Abia State