The COVID-19 global pandemic has unsettled the world. It has created social, economic and medical upheavals not seen in recent history. Starting from China in December 2019 and expanding to other countries of the world as early as February 2020, COVID-19 started as hierarchical diffusion moving to more economically advanced countries then to developing countries. Relocation diffusion started when people from Europe, Middle East (Dubai in particular) travelled back to African countries. The first index case in Nigeria was an Italian who came to Lagos. The disease diffused to states surrounding Lagos and later to Abuja. The arrival of the disease to Abuja and Bauchi opened a corridor for diffusion in the northern part of the country. Within a small period, Kano tested positive, and Kano became a new epicenter and the new phase of the diffusion of the disease started. By early March 2020, most of the diffusion is from people who had contact with the outside world but by April we began to see expansion diffusion which shows the onset of community transmission.
From the time of the first outbreak in Wuhan, many countries have noted that it is just a matter of time before the disease goes global and some countries took measures. Some countries took a longer time to do what is necessary. For instance, it took Nigeria time to close its borders, States were waiting for the first positive case to start taking action and many other shortcomings. Even the agency that is now at the helms of COVID-19 affairs, the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) which had been around for many years is not fully ready for the pandemic, having no idea of disease with this global proportion and little knowledge about it. With an estimated population of 200 million, we are yet to reach 32,000 tests. The idea of lockdown is so strange and the attending consequences, also make some States slow in taking a decision. The pandemic reached a nation that lacks basic health infrastructure, poor database, high poverty rate, laziness and dependence on government, lack of trust, as well as high ignorance, fatality and corruption.
It became a kind of a buying-time game when state government would be telling its people ‘thank God, for us in this State, the disease has not come’ while in reality, infected people have already returned home. Take the northwestern part of the country for instance, by the time the disease was ravaging Lagos and Abuja, thousands of migrant workers were openly returning back to their home in cities and villages, nobody knows how many of them were positive. All the states waited for a first index case while none of them had a testing centre. It took Kano a long time before we had our first testing Centre which was started with so many challenges. Kano as a hub in the north should have had its Centre from the onset, but we wasted a lot of time, NCDC was busy building centres in the south while not minding the danger Kano would pose to other parts of the country. It also took longer time to impose lockdowns within our States, which were failures and we all know. There is resistance from Ulama, businessmen, poor people who feed on daily labour and many other groups. At the moment, we have a diverse understanding and perspectives on the disease.
There are 6 categories of people at least in Kano as per as COVID-19 perceptions is concerned as follows;
- Those who believe that COVID-19 is real, it is contagious, is with us and people are being infected. These categories of people are those that are fearful of the disease and are taking frantic measures to protect themselves and their families.
- Those who believe that COVID-19 is real but it is not yet in Kano, all those who are reported to have the virus may be suffering from other conditions such as malaria, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, and this group is reluctant in self-protection.
- Those who believe that COVID-19 is real and there is an outbreak in Europe and the US but the pandemic has not reached Kano because they didn’t witness the chaos and the death reported in other countries. For this group, there is no outbreak of COVID-19 in Kano at least.
- Those who don’t believe that COVID-19 exists and the whole issue is a hoax deliberately created by State government in order to get money from the Federal Government and other sources, they care not about self-protection.
- Those who believe that there is COVID-19 but was created and deliberately spread by the Western world to stop Muslims from congregational prayers and ultimately reduced their population. This group believed that their faith in Allah and love for the Holy Prophet is enough a bulwark from the virus and take those who fear the pandemic as having weak faith and this is the most defiant.
- Yet there is another group that believe COVID-19 is real and it is contagious and being spread but that they must have already gotten the virus and have naturally recovered so are not likely going to either get or spread the virus. This group believed that they have experienced some signs and symptoms of the disease such as loss of smell and taste, fever, cough and some others and have recovered. They don’t bother.
With these categories – different levels of knowledge, awareness and, most importantly, perception of the whole pandemic, it will be extremely difficult for medical experts to get ahead of the matter while noting that only one group is truly keeping safe. We have not done enough to understand the dynamics because we are all busy thinking it is an entirely medical problem. If we look at all the committees set up by the Federal and State Governments on the management of the pandemic and all the efforts being put we would realize that;
-Medical perspective and health workers have dominated the whole exercise. While they are required for treatment and cure, their role in prevention may be less without proper understanding of the nature of their subject.
Most of the interventions currently used by government are not likely based on any empirical research but largely based on lessons learned from other counties with different social and economic settings.
-To my knowledge so far, no government-funded research is going on in order to understand the dynamics of the response of people to the efforts by the government.
Social Scientists who hold the key to understanding people’s attitudes and perception in this period are totally ignored.
While there are hundreds of social science faculties and a Social Science Academy existing in Nigeria, all you hear from universities is production of hand sanitizers, ventilators and looking for cure, even universities failed to engage their social science resource in the fight, they failed to note that all that we do may not succeed if we do not understand the target, that is, man. To control the pandemic, we need to go beyond testing and isolation centres because people may refuse to go. Nigerian Universities have brilliant social scientists who have expertize and they are willing to provide support in the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria. Despite the strangulation and callousness of agents of the Federal Government to kill the morale and frustrate University Lecturers, many academics are up and doing in this fight. Let us give some few examples on how some social scientists can help.
Geographers, with a reliable data can map the distribution of the disease by location and even predict the risk and identify the environmental factors that influence the spread of the disease within an area. Medical geographers can even show the distribution of people by their perception and recommend the best approach to reaching and changing their beliefs and perception in order to help stop the spread. Sociologists and Psychologist can help us understand the attitudes of people to different approaches by the government. They can advise governments on the best approach to get people comply and identify the weaknesses of the currently used approach. Economists will help us quantify the economic impact of the pandemic, the effects of the lockdown on families and the economy but also provide insights on how to help the weak and start making arrangements on addressing such impacts. Political scientists will help the government develop policy documents as well as provide insights on what to do to address the damage caused by the pandemic. Communication experts will do a lot of work here by designing appropriate messages to be communicated to people in order to sensitize them and help in changing their attitudes. With these inputs, it is more likely that we will slow or even stop the spread of the virus by ensuring people behave well.
At the moment when states are easing lockdowns and not knowing whether or not their citizens are more likely to abide by maintaining social distances in shops, offices, places of worship, clubs and other public arenas, not insisting the use of hand sanitizers in public places and of course use of face mask, one can only hope for the best. Even during lockdowns, Muslims in Kano at least, pray at local mosques without necessarily using soap or hand sanitizers to wash their hands before entering the mosques, without using face masks and without respecting social distance, what do we expect when the lockdown is lifted? To many people, easing lockdown is tantamount to the pandemic is over. As we continue to ease the lockdowns in the north citing Borno, Adamawa, Gombe and Zamfara States who ease the lockdown most likely from the immense pressure of religious leaders and as expected, Kano has also eased by making three days including Friday free days, soon Christians in Kano will cry out, we will end up with 4 days out of seven as free days and 3 days will be left as lockdown days. Kano State government has given guidelines for Friday and Eid prayers, it remained to be seen whether they will be respected. Although some are hypothesising that malaria-endemic areas may fare better than non-endemic areas, with what is happening now and if what has happened in Europe and United States is anything to go by, it can as well be argued that our pandemic is yet to start.
The consequences of easing the lockdowns without the appropriate attitudinal change, something social scientists might help on, we may be in for a mass infections since vaccines are yet to be available. In any case, vaccines, even if available are not likely to be accepted by our people, therefore as Professor Usman Yusuf said in a recent article, there could be a possibility of getting a herd immunity which he said would require about 140 million Nigerians to be infected, this can only be imagined. How can the Nigerian health system handle this? But we can console ourselves and hope, God in his infinite mercy will decide to shield us from coronavirus, noting our weaknesses, then things will be better. In spite of this consolation, we must work hard to reach the populace and help stop the spread. We must remain vigilant and proactive and open, this is why we need a more multidisciplinary approach in this battle. We are all in it together and we all have to work together to fight for our lives. Governments should and must involve social scientists in this fight. It will make a huge difference, I believe.
Mr Adamu, a Professor of Medical Geography and Social Science Academy of Nigeria Laureate, teaches at the Department of Geography, Bayero University, Kano. (firstname.lastname@example.org