We keep receiving news of COVID-19 patients that ran away from their isolation centres for reasons best known to them. We also hear of those that disappear after collection of samples for tests so that if their results come out positive, finding them and moving them to isolation centres become difficult for the taskforce. Just last week a patient that ran away from Delta State isolation centre was intercepted in Enugu by the Enugu State COVID-19 Taskforce. Stories like these make one wonder why Nigerians behave strangely at times.
On Friday, 8 May, 2020, the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, declared that the members of Lagos State Taskforce on COVID-19 are passing through unnecessary and avoidable stress. This, he noted, happens because people that tested positive flee from their houses and switch off their phones when ambulances come to pick them up and convey them to isolation centres. He raised this alarm while explaining the reason why there are so many empty beds in isolation centres despite the increasing number of active cases.
According to Abayomi, it is hard to track these runaways because their communities do not help matters. The communities of these runaways collaborate with them and hide them from the authorities. The taskforce, the commissioner said, does not have the necessary logistics to track down runaways and move them away from the midst of people. This means that a lot of these positive runaway cases are still staying somewhere in the community, even though they know they’re threats to themselves and to those hiding them.
I blame the country for this type of mess anyway because if Nigeria has complete data on everyone, it will be easier to track people. Apart from that, people no longer trusted the government. The stories flying about today are that numbers are being inflated and that negative cases are tagged positive because the government officials want to use the opportunity to embezzle funds. Information like this, be it fake or not, makes it difficult for people to trust the government they already distrusted.
But all these apart, the major problem right now is how to discourage these people from fleeing isolation centres and from the taskforce. It is the duty of state governments to ensure that their isolation centres are in good conditions and that the patients are well taken care of. Prof. Abayomi claimed that the isolation centres in Lagos State are comfortable, unlike in the days of Ebola. This may be true considering that no fake news/information has said that any isolation centre is in bad condition. We have also seen videos of people enjoying palatable dishes in these centres. But, it will still be good if they are verified to rule all negative things out.
However, as these centres are being checked, the different taskforces on COVID-19 should consider taking up the following measures:
- Taking Patient’s Photograph
The photographs, especially the passport sized photos, of tested patients should be taken. Maybe this is already in place because I don’t know how the positive cases could be tracked down without their pictures, especially if they decide to play pranks on the taskforce. However, if this practice is not already in place, it should be considered. Taking someone’s picture will also discourage the person from running away because he knows that he will be found.
- Obtaining Complete Data
Taking a person’s name, address and phone number may not be enough when the need to track him down arises. For that, the person should submit complete personal data, occupational information and next of kin. The next of kin may take the position of a surety. The sureties will help to make sure the patients didn’t run from the authorities because that may land them into troubles they didn’t bargain for. It will be good to verify the provided information to be sure the patients are not playing a fast one on the officials.
- Publish Pictures and Data
This may sound harsh but as it is said, desperate times call for desperate measures. This wouldn’t have been considered if not because of the threat the runaway patients posed to themselves and to others. Here, the pictures and the data of the positive cases that flee from home after samples have been collected and that of those that escaped from isolation centres should be made public if they fail to show up after a given period. This way, every member of the community, and beyond, will help in fishing them out. This measure will also discourage these people from running off because no one will want his face plastered all over the social media for something like this.
All in all, these people need to be sensitised. They need to understand that Coronavirus is not the end of the world. They need to believe that the government is not using them to inflate figures. They need to trust the government.