Nigerian traditional leaders as gamechangers in curbing disease spread

As efforts to improve on the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine campaign across Nigeria continues, traditional leaders in the Northern region have been identified as key players in curbing the disease spread.

The director of immunisation, for the United States Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Dr. Omotayo Bolu, said Northern traditional and religious leaders have in the past shown that they wield great influence in keeping their communities safe.

Bolu who spoke at the third quarter of the Northern Traditional Leaders Committee on Primary Health Care Delivery on Monday, September 6, said Nigeria has witnessed some outbreaks which have seen these leaders take the front row by ensuring members of their communities are immunised.

She said the leaders have gone as far as creating and delivering advocacy messages to mothers, care givers and community members who in turn come out en-masse to have their children, friends and family members vaccinated.

Bolu said: “There have been some many outbreaks and there are so many things we know our traditional leaders can help us do this time (COVID-19 pandemic); these include advocacy on handwashing, keeping the environment clean.”

If we encourage our mothers and caregivers to bring their children for immunisation, this will help us reduce the number of mortalities across our communities,” Bolu said.

Noting that the traditional leaders have always made a difference, the immunisation expert said, “we have data that show the kind of influence you (the traditional leaders) have; the kind of influence we desire to keep everyone safe.”

In his address, the executive director of National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Faisal Shuaib, commended the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, members of the NTLC and all traditional religious leaders for their sustained support and continuous mobilisation of their community members.

Involving South-West Traditional Leaders

He also announced that in line with ensuring the safety of all Nigerians across communities of the country, His Imperial Majesty, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi; (Ọjájá II), is providing leadership in the systematic engagement of the Traditional leaders in the South-West.

Shuaib said that with the South-West Traditional Leaders’ Committee on PHC delivery inaugurated by the Honourable Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire on September 2, at the Onii’s palace, Ile-Ife, it is evident that traditional leaders have the interest of their community at heart.

He also said that the traditional leaders are collaborating with the government to ensure basic healthcare services are available to the people.

Shuaib said: “With the different disease outbreaks that we are currently contending with, it is imperative that our approach becomes more integrated. This is because they are all interwoven. Amidst COVID-19, we have Cholera, CVDPV2 which is as a result of suboptimal routine immunization in some parts of the country.”

The Whole Family Approach

Shuaib said that the government through the adoption of the primary health care services integration (PSI) or ‘the whole of family approach’ for the second phase of the COVID-19 vaccination, the confidence of the people on the vaccine would be enhanced.

The “whole family approach” involves a total body check for every Nigerian who walks in for the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Shuaib said:It entails checking the blood pressure and assessing the diabetes risk status of clients 40 years and above and screening children 0 to 12 months for malnutrition and routine immunization status.

He further encouraged all those who are yet to receive their second doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine to do so while stating that the Moderna vaccine is available for those who are yet to be vaccinated.

After vaccination, we encourage all Nigerians to continue to observe the COVID-19 prevention protocols – wear facemask, observe hand hygiene, physical distancing, avoid crowds and unnecessary travels until we achieve herd immunity,” Shuaib added.

Representing the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Samala Muhammadu Mera, the Emir of Argungu assured that the committee was working to ensure that all eligible Nigerians take the COVID-19 vaccines as they become available.

Mera said the committee is working with traditional and religious leaders in various communities in the Norther part of the country to educate citizens in their community on the safety of the vaccines and the danger of not taking it.

According to Mera, all village and district heads have taken the vaccine as a ways of setting example for others to follow .

Mera said: “What we intend to do as a committee is that we want to lead by example. I have taken my two shots and I believe  every member of the committee has taken. We have also advised and guided our councillors and members to also take it.”

We tell them that the only preventive measure is the vaccine. We are leading by example, we also interacting with the people, bringing in other traditional and religious leaders on board that can influence people,” Mera added.

As of Sunday, September 5, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said there are 195,511 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria. While 184,529 individuals have been discharged, 2,552 deaths have been recorded.

According to the NCDC, Lagos State recorded the highest number with 185 cases while Rivers and Bayelsa States had two and one cases respectively.

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